And the winner of the Murphy’s Law Award goes to…

Negative tapes positive psychology
Allow the positive voices to overpower the negative ones. Victory is inside you. (Tweet That)

Those words began twenty-one years of negativity, self-doubt, and a victim mentality. And they came from my eighth grade social studies teacher.

It seemed funny at the time, but she awarded me the Murphy’s Law Award.

Other kids got “Hardest Worker,” “Most Creative,” or “Most Helpful to Others.” I got “Most Likely to Have Things Go Wrong.” Gee, thanks Mrs. So-and-So.

The tape in my head

It shouldn’t have affected me as it did. I should have been stronger. I should have allowed all the positive things in my life to overpower it.

But I was thirteen. And thirteen year olds shouldn’t be told that. I had no idea how to handle it. So, I believed that it was true.

I became a problem looking for a place to happen.

I became an obstacle looking for a path to block.

If life didn’t give me a problem, I made one myself. Life became an ongoing string of self-sabotages.

When external forces did present obstacles, the tape in my head (this was 1992, it was still a tape) said, “See, I told you so. It’s too hard; it will always be too hard.”

The world was out to get me, my tape said. Looking back, I am amazed at the depths to which my mind could go.

I learned better

For the longest time, everything I read or heard that told me I was not a victim, but a victor, that I was more than a conqueror, that I was a champion…all of that was drowned out by the tape in my head, by that one single moment when a teacher told me that my lot in life was misfortune and pain.

Even when I proved my tape wrong and won golf tournaments, won business awards, or won my wife’s heart; my tape said it wouldn’t last.

But what I didn’t realize is that all those positive voices were slowly whittling down my tape’s power. They were drowning out the negative voices. Slowly…slowly…slowly.

Overcoming your negative voices

So, in one of my more contemplative moments recently, I remembered that day in eighth grade. I don’t remember the teacher’s name. As a teacher and person, she was that forgettable. But I remembered her words. And I forever cast them to the depths of the sea.

Those words are no longer true. I choose to look for the good that can happen in the world. I choose to accept obstacles, struggles, and pain as refiners of gold, not pre-destined roadblocks to success.

And you can, too.

If you’ve gone through life with the same tapes I had, you can overcome them. Allow the positive voices to overpower the negative ones.

Don’t quit inputting positive voices into your head just because they aren’t working like magic. It took me twenty-one years to overcome one negative voice from someone whose name I can’t even remember. It might take you just as long or possibly longer. But don’t give up, because when you finally do win, it will be worth every struggle along the way.

In the words of Jim Valvano,

Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.

Victory is inside you. It’s time to let it out.

How have you allowed someone else’s words to influence you, negatively or positively? If negatively, how can you overcome that?

29 thoughts on “Overcoming the Negative Voices in Your Head | How I Did It

  1. Let's Grow Leaders says:

    Ugh, that’s an awful story… turned into a powerful one. Teachers are leaders with power. One of the most important parts of a leader’s job is building confidence. We all have tapes, now refined into HD CDs…..your advice is spot on. Stop listening to your worn out records, they no longer serve.

  2. steverdan says:

    i put a message up on my face book yesterday that kinda goes along with this. It says it is a glorious day, we should celebrate that by being victorius. Too many times we let the defeats and failures tell us how our day will be, or our week, month, etc. We are greater than any failure or problem we face. It is up to us to learn, grow and be overcomers.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Celebrate the day by winning…LOVE IT!

  3. Zech Newman says:

    Terrible story but an awesome “Rocky” ending! A positive influencing story was when my youth pastor pulled me aside because I was being loud in the back with my friends. I thought I was going to get yelled at. He said, “you are a leader, you can use this for good or continue to do what you are doing. Why don’t you lead a small group?” I did and it did two things forced me to read my Bible and let me practice leading. Blessings Matt. So glad you overcame those thoughts!

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Thanks to you, I have the Rocky theme song in my head. Duh, duh, duh, duh, duh. duh…

      That is a great youth pastor. He took your gift of gab and used it for good.

      1. Zech Newman says:


  4. Katherine Leicester says:

    Greg Whipple. Key West, Florida. November 2001. He believed, and he taught me to believe, too.

    Contrast this with the eighth grade teacher who refused to critique my story except to admonish me to dot my i’s.

    So now I write.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Eighth grade, too, huh?

      Greg must be a great dude!

      1. Katherine Leicester says:

        You’d like him. Next time you get to south Florida, look him up. You’ll be glad you did.

  5. LadyMcKermit says:

    Self sabotage – tough topic to talk about, thanks for sharing. It gives me the courage to say, for a very long time, I found ways to self-sabotage because things were too good to be true. Creating a new recording to listen to, becomes necessary when you realize you were the one who programmed yourself for failure to begin with and its a tough place to find yourself.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      It *is* tough to talk about, but I try to keep it real 🙂

      Keep reprogramming yourself every day.

    2. Mark Sieverkropp says:

      I would say self sabotage is probably much more prevalent than any of us care to admit!

      1. Zech Newman says:

        Totally is with me Mark. I 100% agree with that.

      2. Mark Sieverkropp says:

        I think this is true of all of our thinking roadblocks…since they often are never spoken out loud to anyone, they run rampant in our minds for far too long and far too often!

      3. Matt McWilliams says:

        Well said Mark and @zechnewman:disqus . In lieu of someone else to talk to, we will talk to ourselves. Do you think people in prison isolation are just silent? Have you seen Castaway? 🙂 I’d say that is probably what most people are like on a deserted island.

      4. Mark Sieverkropp says:

        absolutely right! And the problem is when we only talk to ourselves we’re not always getting the best information…hence, self sabotage!

  6. CabinetDoork says:

    How universal that is, Matt! My High School Guidance Counselor told me I was lazy, stupid, and would never amount to anything… In those exact words. (To which my gentle and demure mother aggressively disputed with the “sad old bag of hate” outside her office in an incident some of my classmates refer to as the Kris goes APE-S#!t Incident.) I hate to admit that for far too long those words did haunt me each time I had a win or a loss. Maybe she had some insight into my soul that I didn’t see. Turns out, she was just a foul human being that should have never been allowed access to young souls. Your teacher & mine aught to get together for coffee & yuong souls. Why did we ever listen to their hate? We understand now that that was about them, but we are simply unable to comprehend that in our youth. What power our words possess!

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      WOW Jeremy. That is a powerful story.

      I’m sure it wasn’t your mission in life, but way to prove her wrong. Success always wins over hate.

  7. Jon Stolpe says:

    I’m thankful for my parents who consistently told me “You can do anything.” I try to have this same voice for my kids today.

  8. Jon Stolpe says:

    By the way, congrats on the Entrepreneur on Fire interview today! I can’t wait to listen to this one.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Thanks Jon! It was a blast to do it.

  9. Mark Sieverkropp says:

    Love this post brother. As I was listening to it I realized that for me those negative voices become almost a comfort. When I fail or screw up, I replay them as evidence to say “I knew it wouldn’t work”.

    How screwed up is that mentality!!?! Thanks for the great content.

  10. Paige Gordon II says:

    Awesome post dude! I can’t even begin to describe how much I have been affected by tapes in my own life and it is awesome to hear someone else talking honestly about having to deal with them. Thank you very much for the openness. I haven’t quite hit the 21 year mark with mine so I guess there’s still hope i’ll drown them out! 🙂

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      I hope it doesn’t take nearly that long for you Paige…but if it does, it will be worth it.

      1. Paige Gordon II says:

        you and me both man!

  11. My “tape” in my head was being nicknamed Double Ugly by my dad and Sog by my siblings. They thought I would understand these nicknames were really meant to be funny terms of endearment, but I have had a lifetime of struggles with my self-image and even suffered from an eating disorder for a time. There were other traumas in my life as well and I have no shame in sharing that I needed professional counseling to get past those damages. Two things I learned from my counselor that continue to prevent me from slipping back into negative patterns of self-sabotage. He told me that everytime I get past a negative and turn it into a positive it is like re-claiming a part of myself. For example, I chose to tell my family that I prefer the nickname Sahn rather than Sog. Territory reclaimed! The second one was when my counselor asked me one day, “Why do you insist on wallowing with the hogs when you could be flying with the eagles?”

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Powerful example of the power of tapes.

      Out of curiosity what does “Sahn” mean?

      1. My name is Sonia, pronounced Sahn-yuh and my mom used to called me Sahn-ee. Sahn is a more grown up version of that nickname.

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