“The only difference between the best performance and the worst performance is the variation in our self-talk and the self-thoughts and attitudes we carry around with us”. Dr. Dorothy Harris, professor of sport psychology.
We talk to ourselves on a daily basis for several reasons: to provide us with instructions, to motivate us, to interpret our actions, emotions, thoughts, and to make sense of what is happening around us. It is important to talk to ourselves in a caring positive way as it influences our attitude, behavior, and of course our performance. Having a positive self-talk is one way of cultivating a positive attitude. Instead of saying sentences like: ‘I cannot do it, I am not capable’, we can turn them onto something more positive like: ‘I’m am getting better’, or ‘I am trying my best’.
However, in order to get used to having a positive self-talk, we have to practice it. You can write down a list with positive sentences for your training like:
- ‘I love running’
- ‘I am going to make it’
- ‘I do not care whether it is raining today, I am going to train anyway’
- ‘Once the session is over I feel so invigorated’
- ‘I feel like I am progressing’
The key is to have a list of five of your favorite sentences so you can repeat them every training day. The best times to read your list are in the mornings or before the training sessions, and once you are starting to doubt yourself.
Our self-talk could be constructive and help on our performance, or it can distract us while performing. The first step for managing our self-talk is to notice when and how do we talk to ourselves. Reflect on the way you talk to yourself depending on the different situations happening throughout the day and think whether this way of talking is helpful or not. If your self-talk has sentences like ‘I am just not good at this’, ‘I do not want to fail’, think how can you say something more constructive such as: ‘well, if I practice I can manage’, ‘it is fine to make mistakes, I can learn as a result, and that is what matters’.
Common negative sentences that people say can be replaced by the following:
- ‘(…) is too difficult, I cannot do it’:
‘I have met other difficult challenges like (…), if I practice, I can achieve (…)’
- I cannot do (…):
‘I chose to do (…), or ‘it is my choice to do (…)
- ‘I do not want to fail / make mistakes’
‘It is all about learning and it is okay to make mistakes and try our best’.
- ‘Who cares if I do well?
‘I care how I do (…)’
- ‘I cannot stand the referee’
‘Ruminate on stuff that annoy us is a waste of time and effort’.
This exercise can be extended by thinking on those situations where your performance has been successful and when it has not. Think whether your self-talk was different depending on the result. Use a diary to reflect on the following:
- ‘What do you say to yourself before, during, and after the sessions?’
- ‘What do you say to yourself after a good performance?’
- If the performance was not as good as you wanted to be, do you keep dwelling on the mistakes?
- Is your self-talk made with more positive or more negative sentences?
By practicing these reflections you could anticipate a negative sentence that you were about to say and change it for a more constructive one. Do remember that we all have negative thoughts and they are absolutely normal, what matter is not to be enmeshed with them.