Tips for Productive Self-Talk
Last week, I introduced the concept of building self-awareness to what thoughts you are having before, during, and after certain situations. When we start tuning into what we are thinking, we can make the connection to how those thoughts drive our emotions and behaviors, which ultimately impact our performance.
Once self-awareness has been built, we can then start figuring out if any changes need to be made to the way we are thinking. When my clients recall the specific thoughts they had prior to a performance, or even as they were working on a particular task, they often realize that their thoughts aren’t doing them any favors. I’ll ask them if they would ever say those things to another person (i.e. a friend, teammate, co-worker, a family member), and it is almost always met with a resounding, “No!” So if it is not okay to talk to someone else that way, why do we allow ourselves to have those kinds of thoughts?
To help combat those counterproductive thoughts, there are numerous tools and techniques one can use to have better control over their thoughts. Productive self-talk is helpful when:
· someone is learning a new skill or technique
· when trying to break a particular habit
· prior to a performance or competition
· directing attention to the task-at-hand
· priming your emotions for an optimal performance
· enhancing one’s level of confidence
· for increasing the likelihood of a particular behavior
With the different situations listed above, you can then think about what strategy might be the most effective for you. The best strategy will vary person to person, and may also vary situation to situation. Below are simple overviews of a few strategies both my clients and I utilize when it comes to strengthening the way that we talk to ourselves.
Thought Stoppage- this is one of the first self-talk tools I often teach because it can be both quick and effective at stopping any counterproductive thoughts. First you want to have the awareness that you are having an unhelpful thought. Once you acknowledge that you are having that unhelpful thought, you want to interrupt that thought with a cue. The cue can be a word (such as no), it could be an action (like taking a diaphragmatic breath), or it could be something you visualize (such as a stop sign). From there, you can replace the thought with something that will be helpful to you in the moment. This will take deliberate and consistent effort to stop the unhelpful thoughts, so practice this one often.
· Countering- often our self-talk is filled with doubt. We are doubting out abilities to complete a particular task or performance, and the more we fill our mind with doubt, the more we believe we cannot achieve what we are trying to accomplish. By using the technique of countering, we are providing ourselves with the evidence to disprove our beliefs. Here is an example to illustrate how you can use countering.
Suppose a person has the thought, “I am not prepared for this presentation. I am going to choke.” When they have this thought, they are feeling emotions of anxiety, nervousness, and possibly
even fear as they are getting ready to present. This leads them to experience the sensation of knots in their stomach, sweaty palms, and pacing around their office. If they let these thoughts continue, they may not have the level of performance they desire. To counter those thoughts, this person could say to themselves, “That is absolutely not true. I have spent the past two-weeks preparing and rehearsing this presentation. I know this information inside and out. This presentation is going to go well because I am ready!” When the individual provides themselves with this evidence AND believes it, those doubtful thoughts will fade away.
· Affirmations- individuals can be proactive in their self-talk by utilizing preplanned affirmation statements to give them a boost of confidence in the moments they need it the most. Affirmations are statements that describe what you want, as if you have already achieved it. You want your affirmations to be believable while also being vivid. For example, imagine a gymnast is about to compete on the balance beam.
She is experiencing unproductive thoughts as she is waiting for her turn. She can turn to her affirmation statement that she has practiced for moments like this to help alleviate those nerves. Her affirmation statement could be, “I can do difficult things” and when she says this to herself, she believes it. She has practiced this affirmation statement over and over again in practice and when she is using imagery to rehearse her routine. She has taken control of her thoughts and is deliberating thinking something that elicits positive emotions.
While there are additional tools and techniques to assist with self-talk, these can help get you started if this is something that has been challenging for you. With practice and consistency, you can get your own thoughts working in your favor!