“If I had said, ‘I don’t stand a chance,’ one thing is clear: I wouldn’t have”.
As we move through our day, it is very common for us to have a running commentary going on in our minds. This commentary is sometimes like a conversation that we are having with ourselves and sometimes it is like a series of short statements. If you stop and listen to these messages, you may notice that much of what you say to yourself is very negative. You can hear yourself doubting your abilities, telling yourself you can’t do it, making excuses, finding things or people to blame, noticing and highlighting why the conditions aren’t right and how they are going to stop you from achieving. All of that negative self-talk can have a negative impact on performance but it doesn’t have to be like that. Self-talk can also be positive and helpful to performance.
Why is Self-Talk Important?
One of the reasons self-talk is so important is because it helps to shape your self-image. Your self-image is the perception you have of yourself. It is a combination of the thoughts, attitudes and opinions you have perceived and stored about yourself throughout your life. One thought alone does not make your self-image, it is a subconscious picture that you have been creating and updating for many years. Your self-image has a major impact on how you perform. The key to freeing yourself to perform well is to create a positive and supportive self-image. To do that you must control what you think about and what your perceptions are. Other people such as friends, family members and coaches can give you their opinions about yourself. They can tell you how well you performed, how good you are or they could be very critical and put you down. Those opinions will become part of your self-image only if you accept them and incorporate them into your own thinking. When you see yourself, or believe yourself to be a certain way, you will act and perform in accordance with that belief, whether it is true or not.
If your self-image is having a negative impact on your performance, or it is preventing you from growing and improving, it is possible to displace it and create a new one that will bring about the results you desire. All meaningful and lasting change starts first in the mind before it becomes a physical reality. Every self-talk statement you make has an effect on your subconscious, so it is very important to careful about what you say to yourself. Remember that although other people can give you their opinions about you, it is how you think about yourself that determines your self-image. By using positive self-talk you can create a new picture in your mind that can begin to create a positive and supportive self-image.
How to use Self-Talk
You can use self-talk in 3 ways:
Firstly, to help with your motivation and general self-belief (e.g “Come on, you can do this”). These statements are general positive statements that act to build your positivity and confidence. They can be used in any situation particularly when you are facing a difficult challenge.
Secondly, to act as specific reminders about how you want to perform (e.g. “stay relaxed in the legs, stay focused on the ball”). These technical performance reminders will allow you to achieve consistency because they stimulate the subconscious mind to create the style of performance you want. Your performance reminders will be specific to you and your sport and they can be used in both training and performance situations.
Thirdly, as an antidote to negative self-talk. You can over-ride negative self-talk by responding to it with positive self-talk. You should do this by countering whatever is said negatively as soon as you can. You should use a neutralising statement like “but that’s not like me” or “but that’s not the way I want to do it” before using a positive statement. For example, after missing a penalty a football player might say to herself “I’m rubbish at penalties” which is very unhelpful and should be challenged. The player could respond by saying “but that’s not like me, I’m a good player and I can score penalties. Next time I will make a better connection with the ball”.
The Rules of Self-Talk
- Your self-talk must be personal and directed at yourself.
- It should be about what you want, not what you don’t want. (e.g. A golfer about to take a putt should say something like: “I can make this putt” rather than the negative alternative “Don’t miss this putt”, or he should say “stay calm” rather than “Don’t be nervous”).
- Your self-talk must be possible and believable. If you make statements that you can’t fully accept and believe at a deeper level, then you will place unrealistic demands on your performance reality. For example, making a putt and missing a putt are equally as likely, so saying “you can make this putt” can be believed by a golfer on a very deep level. Telling himself that he’ll be the next Open champion won’t have the same impact because (1) there isn’t any immediate feedback to reinforce the self-talk, and (2) the message may not be believable, and therefore, it’s unlikely to help his performance, it may in fact, be counter-productive.
- Your self-talk should create positive, empowering feelings.
- One of the keys to the successful use of self-talk is repetition. You need to repeat your statements as often as possible because over time and with repetition you can develop a new habit of thinking positive statements and thoughts and expect more positive outcomes. It’s this connection between the words and the belief that is the ultimate goal of self-talk.
Creating Your Positive Self-Talk
In your Performance Journal write down 5 or 6 positive general statements that make you feel positive, confident and capable of performing well. They should be short statements using words that work for you. Here are some examples:
“Come on, I can do this”
“Now is the time!”
“I’m strong, fit and capable”
“I play with skill and passion”
Now think about specific areas of your performance that you want to improve and think of some technical reminders that you can use before and during a performance that will remind you to perform the way you want to. To help you here is an example of some self-talk that a downhill skier might use:
“Go full out from the top to the bottom. Stand taller and stay ahead of the course. Have super-relaxed ankles and knees. Push the line down the hill, stay smooth into the turns and look for speed.”
Think back to one of your recent performances in training or competition and write down all of the negative self-talk statements that you can remember making. Once you have written as many down as you can, go back through each one and create a positive counter-statement. For example:
Negative Statement Positive Counter-Statement
“I don’t play as well when it’s raining” “When I focus fully I can play well in any conditions”
Now you have begun to create your self-talk scripts you should begin to use them as often as possible. You should use them before, during and after training and competition performances. You can use them in conjunction with your mental imagery exercises to create a consistent, positive mental blueprint for your performances and counters any negativity that occurs.
Download the Positive Self-Talk Worksheet by clicking HERE and write a short positive self-talk script about yourself, your skills, abilities and characteristics. Make it long enough to capture the real essence of you at your best possible performance level. Once you have written it out, read it out-load and make sure it complies with all of the Self-Talk Rules. Once you’re happy with it please upload it to complete this lesson.
When you have completed all of the exercises for this lesson you can mark it complate and move on to the next lesson: Being Confident.
© Stuart Chambers, Athletic Mind.