Words and thoughts we say to ourselves, commonly referred to as Self-Talk, can be used to direct attention to a particular thing to improve focus or in conjunction with other techniques.
Our thoughts determine our feelings – our feelings determine our actions. Self-Talk is generated within our minds or it can be verbalized. It can improve behavior depending upon how we interpret its words.
Negative Self-Talk produces adverse feelings, anxiety, and physical tension with performance. It affects our intensity regulation, confidence, and concentration. Positive Self-Talk, however, produces constructive feelings and improve performance.
“The Tale of Two Wolves” is a Cherokee legend that illustrates the choices we have to think either positively or negatively.
As the story goes, an old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life:
“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight, and it is between two wolves. One is evil. He is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good. He is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
“Staying positive in negative situations is the hallmark of mentally strong individuals,” observed mental strength coach, Gregg Swanson. Sport psychologist Jim Afrenow noted, “Understanding that this choice [positive Self-Talk] is yours alone is very empowering and important.”
Talking to one’s self isn’t a sign of mental problems. Having an internal conversation is normal and useful. Self-Talk is more than just building self-confidence. It allows you to use your talents to the fullest. It is neither a mindless positive affirmation nor only happy thoughts nor self-delusion. It can give you a handle for controlling moods. It can help you understand why you react the way you do. And, it helps you repeat success and curtail shortcomings.
Restructuring negative to positive Self-Talk is vital to a successful athlete. An athlete who misses a scoring opportunity may say, “I can’t believe I messed up” or “I stink a this, and I’m no good” can change the focus to “there are better scoring chances” and “bring it on!”
“The ultimate purpose of examining what is going on inside your head is to change actions that are self-defeating,” wrote Swanson. “Thinking correctly does alter your negative moods, but enduring change comes only with modifying your behavior.”
How do we do this? Keep your Self-Talk phrases short and specific. Speak to yourself in the first-person and in the present tense. Say what you want done not what you do not want done. Say these positive words to yourself with meaning and intensity. Finally, speak kind to yourself. Don’t berate yourself if something goes wrong.
Both positive and negative Self-Talk are certainly options for the athlete. The negative Self-Talk focuses on the past (anger, regret, and frustration) while the positive Self-Talk thrives on the present and overflows with optimism (strengthen focus, excitement, and relaxation).
“The mind guides actions. If we succeed in regulating our thoughts, then this will help our behavior,” noted psychologist Antonis Hatzigeorgiadis.