One of the first areas I worked on for my mental toughness (back on my swim club as a teen) that easily carried over into other areas of my life was building my awareness to how I was talking to myself. As I would be standing behind the starting blocks before a race, I would start doubting myself. Did I train hard enough? What if my start isn’t fast enough? Will I be the slowest in my heat? My coach is going to be disappointed in my race. By thinking this way, I was setting myself up for failure. When I said these things to myself, I began to feel emotions along the lines of fear, nervousness, and doubt. This drove me to feel like I was going to be sick (and often times I actually did), and suddenly weak. I bet you can imagine how those races went for me…not well.
When I started paying attention to HOW I was talking to myself, it was easier to make a change. I kept a journal and would record what my thoughts were in situations and performances where I did not think I did well, while also paying attention to situations and performances where I thought I did do well. This helped me identify how differently I spoke to myself in these different kinds of situations. The situations that I performed well in I was almost always talking to myself in a confident manner. I believed that I could do the task-at-hand, and actually, do that task-at-hand well.
Self-talk is inevitably a topic I talk about with my clients because it plays a part in so many things that we do. The thoughts that we have drive our emotions. Those emotions cause us to behave in some sort of manner, which ultimately leads to some sort of outcome in a performance. This is called the Thought-Performance Connection and is widely utilized within sport and performance psychology.
Some experts estimate that we have anywhere between 60,000-80,000 thoughts a day. A day! That is an incredible amount of thoughts, and more than likely, we are not tuned in to ALL of those thoughts. And, if you think about it (bad pun...), that would be overwhelming to be aware of each and every single thought every single day.
To help my clients tune in to what thoughts are passing through their mind in a given moment, I run them through one of my thought awareness activities. Over the course of a few days, I have them keep a self-talk log to record the types of things they are saying to themselves in different situations. These situations might include the few minutes before giving an important presentation at work, during a game where the score is tied, right before a difficult conversation, or even working towards accomplishing a goal or making a behavior change. These are common situations many of my clients have experienced where their self-talk got in the way of how they handled the situation.
To work through the self-talk log, first you want to identify what the exact thought was that you had in that moment. It is important to be honest in the exact thoughts you are having because that will help you identify what needs to be changed to decrease the frequency of that thought coming back. Once you have recorded your thought, I then have my client label the type of thought that they had. These labels are below:
1) Is this thought about the past, present, or future?
2) Is this thought rational or irrational?
3) Is this thought my perception or is this reality?
4) Is this thought helpful or harmful?
5) Is this thought temporary or permanent?
After you have a few days’ worth of thoughts, we now have a better picture of what we are working with. This will help you to have greater control of your self-talk. But first it starts with self-awareness. What are you thinking in stressful situations? What are you thinking in situations where you are performing at your best? Does the quality of your self-talk differ before, during, and after a situation/performance?
What have you noticed with your own self-talk? Have you identified any patterns in your thinking? If so, I would love to hear about it! Write a comment below to share your experiences!
Next week, I will share some of my favorite strategies for controlling self-talk. Subscribe to our newsletter so you do not miss a single post!