Getting serious with self-talk

Often, we’re so busy with everyday life and thinking that we don’t take time to get perspective. Within our heads, almost constantly, many people relate to the idea of a running commentary. Where does that voice come from? The thoughts in our head, sentences and words and how we relate to things seemingly manifest out of nowhere. Take a circumstance of stress or pressure. We may wake immediately and have a running conversation with our selves of negative thoughts, distraction and discouraging notions bouncing off the inside of our heads. Conversely, we may also experience gratification, satisfaction and motivation coming from the voice, our inner self, in times of performance and success. It is this self-talk which shapes a large amount of our inner thinking and moral compass, and can be shaped to improve positive outcomes and situational dealings in the real world.

Speaking with any sportspeople or athlete, you will gain a real sense of inner strength and motivation. We often hear of Olympians and other high-level sports people using mantras, positive sentences and outward expression to increase their belief in their own capabilities prior to performance. This ‘self-talk’ can drastically change our feelings, perceptions and susceptibility to the outside world, but also how we feel about our selves and our capabilities. A good analogy for self-talk is the glass analogy. Positive self talk centres around emphasising the positive aspects of life – the glass is half full. We may not have or get everything we need, but we can focus on our lives, families and health which allow us to seize future opportunities. Negative self talk focuses on what we don’t have, and takes a glass half empty stance. We can focus on the absence of happiness, money and fulfilment – and this form of thinking is actually more contagious and pervasive than positive thinking. To reflect – when life is going well, we often don’t take a moment to observe the situation. But when life is bad, we are reminded quite quickly of the things we don’t have, as these thoughts hold more power and credence in the psyche.

Self-talk isn’t just for sports performance. Army personnel have utilised self-talk during physical and mental tests, often in fighting to get to checkpoints, or enduring stints of sitting out in the wild, waiting for extraction points and on arduous treks. The basis of self-talk in this situation may take on the form of a motto, a word or sentence which gives specific power to a situation. With an individual, words which are centred around perfection and importance are often selected, and can give a great deal of weight to the positive thoughts which arise from the visualisation.

Take an example;

A world class cyclist

Power words: strong, light, fast, agile, powerful

Weak words: slow, tired, heavy, fatigued, clunky

By focusing and repeating a mantra, this may provide positive aspects and thoughts around a performance. We may not be able to physiologically produce a change, but a psychological perspective around what we want out of situation might influence our capacity to believe in its possibility.

In an office or work setting, self talk can be great for getting through times of stress, difficult situations and tense confrontations. With manual and labour intensive tasks, we can take a perspective, particularly on a brainless task like sealing envelopes. ‘250 to go’…. or ‘25 done already! Onwards, efficient, timed and careful’. Framing the outcome we want in our head in a way which is more sustainable may make us believe a more bearable version of the task at hand becomes possible. In our sense of tracking our positive attitude and outlook, we may become more centred in the tactile nature of the task, and reduce the negative chatter in the back of our mind.

Working with a psychologist, mental coach or mental resilience advisor can work wonders for improving mental resilience. Mental resilience refers to the meta-physical reserve we have in our psyche which prevents a total change of mood in response to unpleasant events. Those who are mentally strong may be able to remain flawless in situations of stress, as they focus on their capacity and ability. Those under stress and feel the strain of the situation may be more prone to experiencing the negative self-talk which comes with doubt, worry and fear, and may further compromise their performance.

Utilising techniques like meditation, grounding exercises and visualisation can be perfect to gain a sense of clarity in a mind which, at times, can be quite claustrophobic. In regularly using these practices, we may be able to better see our ability to not only screen, but control our thoughts and outlooks on a situation using positive self-talk. After all, we can not control the outside world or the events that unfold around us. We can, however, attune our outlook and perspective to how we temper our attitude towards these events, and choose a more sustainable, mindful approach to better deal with the events.

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