Self-Talk: What Did You Tell Yourself Today?

“Be careful of what you are talking to yourself because you are listening.”

Lisa M. Hayes

These days the attention of many people is drawn to the 2014 world cup.  Some are feeling disappointed when the team they are supporting failed to win but others feel excited when they see they are with the scorers.  As a psychologist, my interest goes beyond the excitement of scoring a goal by one party and the defeat by the other.  I think of what makes a team win a game and ask, ‘is it about individual fitness or collective efforts’, how do players build the confidence to perform before thousands watching and does what they believe about themselves matter in soccer game, and so and so forth.

Sports psychology deals with how psychological factors affect performance and how participation in sport and exercise affect psychological and physical factors. Sports Psychology started to become visible at the Olympic Games in 1984 when the Olympic teams began to hire sports psychologists for their athletes’ training. 

\"Self-Talk\"One of the different techniques used in sport is “Self-talk”, which refers to the thoughts and words athletes and performers say to themselves, usually in their minds. Self-talk phrases or cues are used to direct attention towards a particular thing in order to improve focus or are used alongside other techniques to facilitate their effectiveness.  The ability to bombard the unconscious mind with one single positive phrase, such as “YES, I CAN!”  It is one of the most effective and easy to use psychological skills available to any athlete. Learning to control self-talk can help athletes manage the information they are feeding themselves on a regular basis.

When I watched Brazil’s and German’s soccer match, I was wondering how much German players used the self-talk technique to tell themselves that they are winners.  By no means that am I saying self-talk is the only factor to win a soccer game for performance is related to thoughts, expectations, and self-talk as well as physical and technical preparation.

Talking about the World Cup, today I want to take only one of the techniques – ‘self-talk’ and discuss its power in one’s personal life. If we see people talking to themselves audibly, we think they are crazy or at least they are on the way to lose it. However, whether we are aware of it or not, we all talk to ourselves constantly.  Some of us do it more often than others.  Some do it more quietly, and others do it out loud.

Self-talk includes our conscious thoughts as well as our unconscious assumptions or beliefs. It is as though we have an internal voice inside our head that determines how we perceive every situation.   This is part of making sense of our observations, it is how we interpret what is going on inside us and reconcile it with what is going on in the world.  From communication perspective, intrapersonal communication, may sound a flawed concept for communication requires sender, receiver, message and dialogue.  However, this is a concept of programming the mind.

According to Martin Saligman, Positive Psychologist, self-talk could be divided into two general categories positive and negative.  Positive self-talks tend to develop habitual sense of self-talk that results in optimistic feelings.  It can take motivational form or instructional; whereas negative talks are resulting in pessimistic feelings.  The way we describe events, situations, relations show the way we make sense of this world.  Our explanation shows our deeper beliefs and assumptions we have made how the world operates.  Our negative assertions about ourselves usually happen without even realizing it and can be a subtle running adverse commentary going on in the background of our mind.

When self-talk is skewed to negative, like if you repeatedly say ‘I’m going to fail for sure’, or ‘I suck,’ or ‘I’m hopeless’, then it may result in depression.  That is why it is useful to keep an ear on the things you tell yourself, and challenge the negative aspects of your thinking.

First of all, listen to yourself every day.  What are you telling yourself regularly?  If negative thinking predominates your pattern, with practice, you can learn to notice your own negative self-talk as it happens, and consciously choose to think about the situation in a more realistic and helpful way. Keep challenging the negative talk.  Question it.  Rephrase it positively.  Self-talk is not meant to deceive ourselves of unrealistic happenings.  It is about being realistic and also hopeful.  That way we can feel energized to keep going with hope and confidence.

The brain encodes the talks and it becomes automatic in our feeling reactions.  Whenever you find yourself feeling depressed, angry, anxious or upset, use this as your signal to stop and become aware of your thoughts. Use your feelings as your cue to reflect on your thinking.

Let me tell you what I did very recently.  After many years of pausing myself from physical exercise, I recently started going to a gym.  It took me a while to defeat all my negative talks of procrastination to have a jump start.

Seb 1: C’mon Seble, live up to what you teach about health! Get up and exercise regularly!

Seb 2: Oh! I would love to but I am really busy these days. Let me finish this project and that project then I will definitely have time to exercise.

Seb 1: Ooops! You are becoming an expert in providing excuses for your laziness.

Seb 2: No, you don’t understand.  I juggle with all these in my hands and I will definitely do when I am done with at least two of my projects.  Then I will               have time.

Seb 1: Well Seble, I thought you would value health. Shouldn’t it be one of the priorities in your life?

Seb 2: I only have time in the morning but I really hate to wake up early.  Everyone knows that I am not a morning person.  Otherwise, I would have loved to           do it.

Seb 1: No reason is good reason.  Just get up and do it.

Seb 2: Ahhhh, it is raining today. I will do it tomorrow.

Seb 1: Just do it!

Seb 2: Repeated the word, “JUST DO IT!”

Ever since about a month, I wake up in the morning and say to myself “Just do it!” and refuse myself to listen to any inner voice of pretext that hinders my morning exercises.  I use the aerobics music to uplift me too.  I sing the song “When the going gets tough, the tough gets going….” I sing it repeatedly and smile that I am getting tougher than my laziness. I tell myself what I can do to defeat all thoughts that are against developing the habit of exercise.

I have found out repeating positive statements every morning, day time and evening as a mental exercise is useful and; repeating them aloud is even more effective because as I hear them more clearly.  I motivate and allow myself to experience positive vibes.

Did you tell yourself today that you can push it or you suck?

I want to challenge you as I challenged and talked myself out of my negative self-talks.  Since what you tell yourself determines your alignment to your efforts, you may as well be your own ally and talk to yourself positively as if you talk to your loved ones to convince them to be on your side.