Who’s controlling the voice in your head? Or maybe the first question should be – are you aware of the voice in your head? Talking to ourselves is something we do everyday. However our own awareness of this varies. If you are aware of your self-talk, you can use it to your advantage – either by enhancing positive self-talk, or adjusting negative self-talk into something positive and useful. If you are not aware of your self-talk, you are very likely your own worst enemy and might just be the reason why you find it challenging to reach your goals and dreams.
Considering that thoughts affect emotions which in turn affect actions, it is vital that you are aware of your own thoughts. If you have negative thoughts, you are most likely to feel negative emotionally and consequently your actions/ behaviour/ performance will suffer. Conversely if you have positive thoughts, you are most likely to feel positive emotionally and reap the benefits of having a positive frame of mind.
Various studies have shown that positive self-talk can enhance motor skills; improve strength, concentration, emotional control, drive and confidence. To me, that sounds like something that I cannot miss out on…
Your first step to reaping such benefits is becoming aware of the state of your own self-talk. As already indicated, this internal monologue is likely to be either positive – praising yourself for accomplishments – or negative (like most people) where you might disregard any achievements you made and continuously underrate your ability to succeed. The latter, unfortunately, is mostly done unconsciously – without you even realising it…
Question: Just think of how many times in your life have you said to yourself you won’t achieve something – all because of a simple mistake (which we all make), and then your whole performance collapses along with your confidence?
My experience with negative self-talk is that it is mostly unsubstantiated and irrational. The fact that you once had a bad start in a race, does not mean you are doomed to forever be last out of the blocks; one missed kick at goal, does not mean you likely to be the world’s worst kicker and the team should never rely on you. If you continue to compare yourself to your role model (e.g. you compare your golf swing to Rory Mcilroy), you might continue to perceive your ability to be below par – reducing your confidence in your ability and ultimately your performance. By unconsciously projecting these irrational thoughts into your future performance, you are affecting your confidence and concentration, a lack of which will lead to poor performance.
So how do you turn this around? Once you are aware of this defeatist attitude, the next step is acceptance. Acknowledge these thoughts for what they are – negative, irrational and self-defeating thoughts. Acknowledging these thoughts is not about tolerance or putting up with it, it is about having an attitude of openness, interest and receptiveness whereby you allow your thoughts to come and go as they please without fighting them, running away from them or giving them undue attention. Once acknowledged, you can start replacing them with more appropriate thoughts that will enhance your performance.
The two types of self-talk that you can employ is motivational self-talk or instructional self-talk. Motivational self-talk includes cues aiming at psyching up (e.g., ‘‘let’s go’’), maximizing effort (e.g., ‘‘give it all’’), building confidence (e.g., ‘‘I can do it’’), and creating positive moods (e.g., ‘‘I feel good’’). Instructional self-talk includes cues aiming at focusing or directing attention (e.g., “see the target’’) and providing instruction with regard to technique (e.g., ‘‘high elbow’’), strategy (e.g., ‘‘push’’), or kinaesthetic attributes of a skill (e.g., ‘‘smoothly’’).
When assisting my clients with identifying appropriate cues and affirmations, I stress the fact that it is not a ‘quick fix’. Just as you are willing to work hard to prepare yourself physically and technically, you need to be willing to work hard to prepare yourself mentally. Many times, it is the athlete who also works vigorously on their mind-set, which emerges victorious.