For 17 years, pastor Joel Osteen was happy to work behind the scenes, running television production for his dad’s ministry in Houston. Osteen’s dad encouraged him to preach, but Osteen’s head wasn’t in it. He didn’t see himself on stage and his nerves didn’t help.
“My personality was low key, behind the scenes. I never pictured myself doing it," Osteen told me as we sat in the stadium seats at San Francisco’s AT&T Park, less than 24 hours before he would preach to a sold-out crowd of 40,000. "I would have loved to because I saw my dad speak in front of a lot of people. I just didn’t think it was in me.”
Related: 8 Ways to Boost Your Confidence
I caught up with Osteen, the senior pastor of America’s largest church, to talk about his new book, The Power of I AM. The book’s principle is simple and profound: Whatever follows the words “I am” will find you. Speak words of victory, successes will find you. Speak words of defeat, and failures will find you.
“Joel, this principle applies to public speaking,” I suggested. “If someone says, ‘I am a terrible speaker. I am boring. Nobody wants to listen to me,’ you won’t be your best. If you say positive things, you’ll feel better and people will connect with you.”
Osteen responded: “Absolutely, that’s 100 percent true. When I started I was afraid. I didn’t feel I was that good. But I had to say to myself, ‘You can do this, you’re confident, you’re strong.’ It can sound corny, but if you don’t talk to yourself the right way you can talk yourself out of your dreams.”
Some people might dismiss this advice as “affirmations” that don’t work. I couldn’t disagree more. I’ve studied communication for 25 years and I can confidently say that, when it comes to excellence in almost any field -- especially communication and public speaking -- how you think is everything. The day you change the way you see yourself as a speaker, the speaker your audience sees will change.
Osteen is one of the best examples of the principle at work. Sixteen years ago, he couldn’t give the church announcements without shaking as he approached the lectern. Today he sells out stadiums around the world and speaks to 50,000 people every weekend at Houston’s Lakewood Church. His television program is seen by millions of viewers in more than 100 countries.
“Words are like seeds. What you say will take root,” Osteen says. “You are where you are today in part because of what you’ve been saying about yourself. You can’t talk negative and expect to live a positive life.”
If words have creative power, how many of us are being held back from starting a business, advancing in our careers or living our best lives because the words we tell ourselves sap our energy? Worse yet, many people allow the negative words of others to hold them back -- negative comments from a coach, teacher, parent, boss or colleague will often stop people in their tracks.
Be careful who you allow in your inner circle, Osteen says, because sometimes the ones who discourage you the most are the ones closest to you. “Make sure the two or three you choose to be close to you are 100 percent for you,” Osteen writes.
Are negative thoughts keeping you from achieving everything you were destined to accomplish? Here’s the good news: You are free to choose the words that follow “I am.” According to Osteen, you’ve got to get good at changing channels.
“Quit replaying your failures,” he says. “Put on your accomplishments. Put on your victories.”