An important part of performing under pressure is to make sense of the voices in your head. In certain situations, they may seem louder that others. When things are going well, they can be particularly encouraging. Maybe not so when things are not going well.
Such is the nature of self-talk, and important aspect of self-regulation during performance. If you haven’t worked on making self-talk positive and productive, you are missing a key aspect of elite performance.
Simply put, your self-talk needs to serve you. You get to decide whether your thoughts are facilitating or hindering the pursuit of excellence. Without doing the up-front work, there can be many characters up there telling you different things at different times.
Starting off, self-talk can be much like handling the trash-talkers in any sport. They try to push your buttons, get you thinking of things that you shouldn’t be thinking of. A change of state ensues, and focus is gone. But a resilient competitor finds the way to make sense of this one way or another so that nothing effects your composure.
So, what do you hear? And when do you hear it? Consider the guideline of: positive and productive. First, positive is not necessarily the cheerleader’s voice. Positive means clear, affirming, and without negatives. Our mind does not do well with negative commands or prompts (Example: Don’t think of a purple rabbit… what happened?). And productive means moving along the proper path or process towards a goal or objective. Thinking about failure is not productive.
Self-talk affects state. It can be your internal coach, guide, and friend. Or it can cause chaos and degrade performance. Here are three ways to improve self-talk during practice and competition.
- Notice any negative self-talk. Don’t fight it– notice it and take it apart. What is it that you want in that moment? Consider how you would coach a good friend in that moment. What would you say?
- Script particularly stressful situations. Have a stock phrase that keeps you composed and on track. Keep it short and sweet.
- Don’t get caught up in outcomes. Self-talk is about the process such as effort, focus, guiding, planning in the moment, etc. Avoid shoulda, woulda, coulda conversations in your mind.
Then…practice, reflect, and refine!
If you would like more structure to take your mental approach to the next level, consider picking up a copy of my new sports psychology workbook: Above the Field of Play. Or to learn about other sports psychology services pricing (including an assessment of your present mental approach), visit my website at DrJohnPanepinto.com.
photo credits: Morgan Sarkissian (unspash.com)