Self-talk is basically what you say to yourself in the confines of your own head that nobody else hears, yet that could have a HUGE impact on how you feel about yourself, and ultimately how you perform!
If your self-talk is consistently positive, as in “Stay in the NOW”, “Focus only on YOU,” and if you make a mistake, “That’s alright! I’ll get it next time,” then you’ve already mastered one of the key principles of peak performance if you can keep this up no matter the outcomes and setbacks you experience.
BUT if your self-talk is negative, inconsistent, or blames others on mistakes and bad breaks, then your athletic potential, attitude and performance are going to hold you back from greatness. Being negative with yourself will ALWAYS weigh you down, distract you and set you up to fail!
Self-talk comes from beliefs. You can be an all-star on the surface and still be plagued with negative beliefs about who you are, what you’re good at, and what limitations you have. But the GOOD NEWS here is that you can learn to control your relationship with these negative self-beliefs.
By changing the self-talk attached to your experiences, you’ll weaken the hold that negative beliefs have over you.
Most of the time this sort of self-talk is on autopilot, it’s just running through the background of your mind as “normal” thoughts that you think you can’t do anything about. It may become a vicious cycle that leads to slumps and blocks, physical tension, and the inability to perform to your potential. But it doesn’t have to be!
Here’s how you can improve your self-talk and become mentally tougher.
1. Changing self-talk begins with awareness.
You must first recognize the negative chatter that reinforces these negative beliefs, such as “I’m going to bomb this like I did last time” or “what’s wrong with me, I should be better at this by now” or “I’m never going to be as fast as him/her, I should just quit.” By simply recognizing when these thoughts come up and labeling them as negative thinking, you’ll start to weaken them. Step 1 is just about being more aware of your negative thoughts and acknowledging that they’re there.
2. Reframe permanent thinking as temporary.
Notice how often you use “permanent” words like “always,” “never,” or “every time” in your self-talk. These words create a belief that what is going on now, can never change. It’s hard to change anything that sounds so “etched in stone,” and besides, it’s just NOT TRUE!! When you reframe your self-talk as temporary, from “I always choke under pressure” to “I was off today” then a whole world of possibilities for improvement and better performance opens up! With permanent language, you’re defeated no matter what and there’s no reason for even trying. However, with temporary language, you are motivated by solutions such as working on a particular technique, talking to your coach, practicing under different conditions, etc. When you catch yourself using permanent language, quickly reframe it to be temporary instead.
Look at your failure as temporary and NOT as a reflection of who you are and what you can accomplish.
3. Be specific in your self-talk.
Negative self talk usually has a “global” quality to it and this “global” perspective is destructive. For example, “I am a head case and choker” will leave you feeling badly about yourself. However, telling yourself, “I focused on the wrong things before the game today and that’s what made me so nervous” is a specific explanation that points you in a constructive direction to turn things around. Most people’s negative self talk tends towards global character assaults. With practice, you can learn to evaluate yourself in a more specific and helpful way.
4. Fall Back strategy if all else fails…
If you’re about to perform, or in the middle of a performance and you’re suddenly flooded with last minute negative thinking, STAY CALM, remind yourself that these thoughts are absolutely normal and immediately RE-FOCUS on what you are physically DOING in the moment and NOT on what you are thinking. Peak performance ALWAYS happens when your focus is outward in the action rather than inward on your thinking!
Where Slumps Really Come From and How to Help Struggling Athletes
What Meditation and Mindfulness Have to Do with Mental Toughness
Commonly asked questions related to coaching for mental toughness and peak performance