Back To All Stories

Hi, I'm boring. Harvard expert on Taming Destructive Self-Talk

Emotional Agility author Susan David says you can step out of ugly “truths”


Imagine you’re walking into a party full of other business leaders.

On your chest is a sticky note. “I’m boring,” it says.

You introduce yourself to a group of smartly-dressed executives.

“Hi, I’m boring. Nice to meet you.”

They turn and shout above the music.


“Hi, I’m FAT.” 

“Hi, I’m an IMPOSTER.” 

“Hi, I’m a LOSER.” 

This is a real game for executives run by Harvard Medical School psychologist Susan David, interviewed recently by the Growth Faculty. 

“It has a surprisingly profound effect,” she says in her book Emotional Agility.  

The game is this.

  • Executives write on a sticky note the deepest fear about themselves.
  • It could be any unsurfaced “subtext” they carry with them into their work, relationships, and lives:…’I’m a fraud’ , ‘I’m a bad person’, ‘Nobody loves me.’ 
  • At the pretend party, they shake hands and introduce themselves with whatever they’ve written down.

And, as a result, the ugly “truth” that has had so much power over them loses that power, and is tamed.

“I get emails years later in which people tell me what a relief it is to be able to see a thought as just a thought,” David writes.

“They’ve given their fear a name, and then are able to have had some fun at its expense. By doing so, they create more space to be themselves. They’ve stepped out.” 

Like Brené Brown's observation of those who live with the destructive traits of perfectionism, you can be a slave to your thoughts.

But, Dr David says it’s doesn’t have to be that way.

"You can have the thought “I’m a fake”, notice it, and then choose to set it aside," she points out in Emotional Agility.

Susan David's truths that help you separate the thinker and the thought:

•             Thoughts and emotions contain information, not directions.

•             Thoughts are just thoughts.

•             They can hold great sway over you, but can be turned into something devoid of power.

•             Thoughts can be slightly ridiculous.

•             You can choose to set thoughts aside.

•             You can curiously notice your thought, but not let it call the shots.

•             Like an executive assessing priorities, you can act on some, not on others.

Dr David says Emotional Agility means having any number of troubling thoughts and emotions and"still managing to act in a way that serves how you most want to live."

She offers these:

6 techniques to step out of your destructive self-talk:

  1. Think process. See yourself as being in it for the long haul and on a path of continuous growth (see Simon Sinek's questions for leaders playing The Infinite Game). “I’m bad at public speaking” and “I suck at sports” are just stories. They are not your destiny.
  2. Get contradictory. You can love and loathe your hometown. You can be the victim and the person responsible for a relationship breakdown. Embrace and accept contradictions.
  3. Have a laugh. Humour forces you to see new possibilities. Find something funny about yourself. It will help you accept and create distance from it.
  4. Change your point of view. Consider your problem from the perspective of someone else, even your dog.
  5. Call it out. Identify that thought for what it is (a thought) and that emotion for what it is (an emotion). “I’m having the thought that……,”I’m having the emotion that……”  You don’t have to accept or act on them.
  6. Talk to yourself in the third person. Jane has something valuable to say in the meeting. Sanjit helps other colleagues. 

And, just to show she's on our side, Dr David points out that "I'm boring" is her own self-described label. 

"I was always the 'boring one,' or so it seemed to me," she tells us in Emotional Agility

That's the thought she's having. But, as we know, it is just a thought.  

Members can watch our full interview with Dr Susan David by logging into The Growth Faculty - On Demand and clicking here.  

If you'd like to increase your professional development why not consider becoming a member of The Growth Faculty? One membership, unlimited access to 30 live virtual Time For Transformation masterclasses and the best live virtual events - PLUS year-round leadership content On Demand with videos, podcasts and book summaries. Join a community of knowledge seekers who are inspired by the best. Access $4350+ value for just $398 AUD. See who's up next.


Keep Informed
Stay Inspired


© 2023 The Growth Faculty

Where Brilliant Ideas Inspire Leadership

Privacy Policy    Terms of Service