Have you ever stopped to think about how you talk to yourself? Are you your own greatest cheerleader? Or are you your greatest critic? Negative self-talk is when you tell yourself things like “I can’t do it” or “I’ll never get this” or “I should just stop trying.”
Negative self-talk can lead to poor performance and poor mental health. And we would never talk to other people this way! So why do we talk to ourselves with such hurtful words, designed to discourage and diminish ourselves?
Why Do We Engage In Negative Self-Talk?
Negative self-talk is a defense mechanism. It helps to cushion our minds against disappointment. It’s less depressing to fail when you didn’t think you could do it anyway.
“See, I just knew that I couldn’t do it!” You feel bad about failing… but at least you feel good about being right! And we all love to be right, even about our own inadequacy in other areas.
It can be extra-rewarding when you doubt yourself and succeed anyway. A victory against all odds feels so much better than succeeding at something that was never in doubt.
The Downward Spiral Of Negative Self-Talk
Self-talk becomes dysfunctional when you begin to get used to winning those little bets against yourself. This can lead to a downward spiral of setting yourself up for failure, and telling yourself that it will be okay when your prediction comes true.
It can also prevent you from setting better goals because you get just as much psychological reward from anticipating your failure as you do from actual success. And failing requires much less work!
Turning Toward the Positive
As a volleyball coach, I deal with a lot of teen girls. And we all know how difficult the teenage years can be. Self-doubt, anxiety, and easy embarrassment are hallmarks of that time in our lives. But the negative self-talk habits that we learn at that age can easily carry into adulthood.
In my last post, we showed you the benefits of talking to your self in a positive manner. But how are you supposed to create positive self-talk when we are caught in a negative cycle?
Poor performance, discouragement, shame, and anxiety can be a hard cycle to break. Fortunately there are several ways to stop our negative self-talk and turn it to our benefit.
1) Thought Stopping
This might be the simplest one. When a negative thought pops into your head, you simply say, “Stop. No negative thoughts.” Or you could think of a visual cue, like a stop sign, to shut off the negative self talk.
Identifying and using a word, phrase, or quote to say (aloud or internally) is another technique. “Good Vibes Only” is a great example of Thought Stopping in pop culture.
One of my personal favorites is a physical cue such as snapping your fingers to disrupt the negative thought. I have a couple of players who do this, and I love seeing it just before they serve an ace!
A volleyball friend of mine once pretended to pull invisible “stuff” off of her shirt and throw it away. When asked what she was doing, she said she had to get rid of the “suck”! Not only did it disrupt her negative thoughts, but it made us all laugh and lessen the tension on the court, resulting in better play.
2) Positive Affirmations
Think about the positive and past successes. Recognize that every skill or technique was once new and difficult, but after practicing and working hard, those new and difficult skills and strategies become second nature. “I’ve done this before. I can definitely do it again.”
Similarly, maybe you’ve taken time off from the gym or are coming back from an injury and you are “behind” where you once were. Or maybe you’re just having a bad day – you had a poor night’s sleep or have an important deadline looming and your focus is off. It can be helpful to remind yourself that, “This may be an off day, but I’ve come so far from where I began!”
The best way to be successful with this is to create a list of positive things about yourself to use when you feel negative thoughts beginning. It is easiest to do this outside of the situation so you have these affirmations ready when you need them. Make an actual list on your phone, in your planner, or on a post-it note on your mirror that you can physically see when the negative thoughts start creeping in.
3) Cognitive Reframing
This one is the toughest, especially when you are in a negative mood already. Reframing is looking for a more optimistic view. It means taking a negative thought and looking for the positive in it.
For example, if you are coming back to the gym after an injury, you might think, “I’m going to be so weak! All my hard work has been for nothing!” Instead reframe it: “I have so much experience now. I’ll get stronger faster, because I know what I’m doing!”
Or maybe you are having a bad day at the gym – you feel weak, tired, or just run down. Instead of beating yourself up, just reframe it. “It’s just one bad day, and that’s okay. We all have them. But I’m sure tomorrow will be better!”
Overall, find what works for you to have a healthy, positive mindset. We all have had times where we were filled with self-doubt and questioned our abilities. Pulling ourselves out of the spiral of negativity and engaging in positive self-talk is as important as actually doing the tasks we want to do. These techniques will not come naturally for most of us, and we have to work at them and continually adjust and strive for improvement. Just like learning a new skill, practice makes perfect!