Have you ever really listened to the way you talk to yourself in your head? You know, those thoughts that say things like, "You dummy; you can’t do anything right; the coach doesn’t like you; you’ll never make it to the finals; give up." If you start to pay attention to your self-talk, I bet you’ll be surprised at what you hear. Most of us don’t even realize we’ve got an internal dialogue going on, and when we start to pay attention to the chatter we’re surprised to find there’s an awful lot of criticism, doubt and negativity swirling around in our heads. The result of this negative self-talk is that our brain actually believes it and then makes decisions based on those beliefs.
Can you see where I’m going with this? Think about it: If you spend most of your waking moments in an internal dialog with yourself and your inner narrator is telling you that you suck and shouldn’t bother trying, those are the beliefs your brain will take action on. Now, let’s consider self-talk in the context of sports performance. Leading sport psychologists agree that, especially during critical moments, performance can become 100 percent mental. What this means is, the only way to perform to your full potential is to master the mental side of the game.
The good news is, you can change your self-talk into a dialog that supports positive action and success. There are many benefits that can come with a positive shift in thinking and self-talk, including improved mood, increased ability to focus, more self-confidence and the ability to attain goals. The sooner you start changing your inner dialog, the quicker you’ll see changes in your performance. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
Pay attention to your thoughts
Start to listen to what you say, in your head and out loud. If you hear yourself using negative words or criticizing yourself, change to more positive thoughts or quietly recite an affirmation that you’ve created for yourself ahead of time.
Do a self-evaluation
Take a piece of paper and write down an assessment of yourself during a recent event, performance or personal interaction. Notice the words you use to describe yourself. Are they positive and compassionate or negative and judgmental? Challenge yourself to write another self-evaluation of the same situation using more positive language and notice the difference in how you feel. If you get stuck, ask yourself how you’d treat a friend who was in a similar situation.
Look for the positives
Commit to looking for something positive in every situation, even if what you’re experiencing is less than ideal. When you can find something to be optimistic about, learn from, or apply to the future, it can change both your outlook and your ability to perform at your best.
Create a gratitude journal
Scientific studies have shown that the practice of gratitude actually rewires your brain and people who regularly count their blessings feel happier and less depressed. There are countless simple things that can add joy to our lives. Try spending a few minutes before bedtime listing the positive things about your day.
Be kind to yourself
You didn’t develop your current habits overnight and you’re probably not going to change them overnight either. Focus on taking small, deliberate steps each day to move in the direction of treating yourself with more compassion and in time you’ll be surprised at how much progress you’ve made.
Remember, you are in control of the thoughts, feelings and actions that affect your performance. The first step to making positive changes is simply becoming aware of what you’re thinking, feeling and doing in the present moment. From there you can decide to make different choices that support positive outcomes, move you toward your goals and help you reach your full potential.
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Eva Bart-Williams is a mental performance coach with a private practice helping individuals and teams achieve big goals. Eva is also CBW Soccer Elite’s head of operations, where she helps athletes embrace the challenges of high-level competition and advises families on the college soccer recruitment process. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.