Last time I wrote about self-talk and its importance for so many things in our lives: our beliefs, our actions, our presence, our confidence. For example, positive, encouraging, task and solutions-oriented self-talk, can boost your confidence and performance. Negative self-talk, on the other hand, can hurt your confidence, cause more anxiety and lead to poor performance. It is therefore important to control your self-talk in a way of how you think, what you think about, and when you will use it.
In this article, I will write about a few techniques with various examples that may help you understand better and eventually control your self-talk.
CHANGING NEGATIVE SELF-TALK TO AFFIRMATIVE ONE
When you become aware of your negative thoughts and inappropriate self-talk, it is important that you change them into positive and affirmative ones. You can do this by using thought-stopping and solution-mode thinking.
Self-talk should be affirmative in the direction of what you want to do, not what you don’t want to do or avoid. Here are a few examples for players: instead of saying “I don’t want to make any mistakes” you can say “I will focus on my task, situation by situation”. Instead of saying “I hope I will not miss this shot” you can focus on the routine you make before free throws and visually follow the ball through the rim. Instead of saying “I hope coach will not put me to the bench” you can say “I am not in control of the coach’s decision, I will focus on my performance and do my best”. Remember, you are in control of your mind, not the other way around.
Here are a few examples for referees: instead of saying “I cannot miss anything during the game” you should say “I will pay attention to my AoR and anticipate the action”. Instead of saying “I hate when the coach starts to provoke me” you can say “I am not in control of the coach’s behaviour, I am in control of my response. Breathe-in and regain control.” Instead of saying “I still did not make any call. When will I make a call? Did I miss something?”, you can say “Wait, be patient, follow the action, focus on my AoR.”.
KEYWORDS, PHRASES & SIGNALS
Keyword, phrase, specific signal, or stimulus can serve as a reminder (or a trigger) for you to stay relaxed, calm, and focused in a particular situation. These triggers can present something general or something very personal and specific for you to help you in specific situations where you find yourself struggling with the negative inner voice. The more the trigger is personalized, the more effect it will have on your mind flow, your concentration to “here and now” that could eventually reinforce your performance.
For example, you may choose the blue arrow as a signal that will re-focus you back from the inner monologue in your head. It can serve as a trigger, a reminder that you have to switch your attention to the task, to the situation in front of you that is currently going on.
Or another reminder can be the phrase “breathe-in, breathe-out” in situations where you feel a bit nervous. This reminder of a mindful action of breathing can calm you down both physiologically and mentally.
As a last reminder, when thinking about how to change your self-talk from negative into more constructive and affirmative ones, it is important to:
- Become aware and recognize a negative thought or doubtful inner voice in your head (i.e. I hope I will not mess this up, What if I make mistake again; What will the coach think about me, etc).
- Stop and interrupt negative thought with a trigger word/signal, or physical action (i.e. red stop signal, blue arrow, breathe-in/breathe-out, pinch yourself, etc.).
- Regain control of your mind with 2-3 breaths. This will shift your inner voice from worry or doubt to a situation “here and now”, to present and awareness of breathing.
- Then, use the affirmative, task-oriented self-talk to continue with the performance (i.e. Focus on my task and solutions; Move left for a better position; Anticipate action in my AoR, etc.)
I hope these last two articles will serve you as guidelines to understand better the important topic of self-talk and inner monologue we all have. With these few examples and suggestions, you may try to apply them for your mental preparation and during the practice and performance.