Positive self-talk. It’s one of those things that sounds all hippy-dippy, but it’s actually pretty fundamental. We all have an inner voice, and how that voice speaks to us directly impacts our mood, our mental health, and our actions. Learning to flip the script and put a positive spin on your internal dialogue can have a significant impact on your capabilities, motivation, and performance, and can even stop your most powerful negative triggers in their tracks. Pretty cool, right?
In fact, positive self-talk is so effective, it’s used by athletes across every sport to enhance their performance. Basketball players taking foul shots can’t be hearing, “You’re going to miss this shot.” If that’s the voice they’re listening to, it will shake them right off their game. Instead, they replace the negative talk with something positive to repeat as they step up to the free-throw line. “I will make this shot.“ And it works.
Where it gets really interesting is in long-distance sports where athletes have to push themselves beyond their own limits. Past what is, by all accounts, humanly possible.
Have you heard about Diana Nyad, athlete extraordinaire? At 64 years old, she swam the dangerous 110-mile stretch from Havana, Cuba to Key West, Florida, beating all odds, defying nature. How? She believed she could. She let nothing stand in the way of that — not deadly box jellyfish stings, not the fact that she had failed in her four previous attempts at the feat. Her positive self-talk? “I can swim from Cuba to Florida. And I will swim from Cuba to Florida.”
And then there’s Karl Meltzer, winner of more 100-mile races than any other runner. 100-mile races, y’all. What’s his go-to positive self-talk when he’s not feeling his best or his run isn’t going as well as he’d hoped? “I’m in the woods or mountains while other people are at work. I’m playing around!” Positive indeed. Imagine being on mile 73, feeling like you can’t take another step, let alone run 27 more miles, and being able to muster up that kind of positivity?
Ian Sharman is another phenom who harnesses positive internal dialogue to do the impossible. As long-time, former fastest-100-mile trail runner in the United States, he pushes on by repeating “This is where the memories will be made. I can either look back on it and know I gave up, or look back and know I gave it everything.“
How in the world are these people able to go immediately to the positive in times of grueling physicality and excruciating pain? Does it just come to them automatically?
Absolutely not. For positive self-talk to be readily available in the most difficult and trying times, it needs to be strategic. Premeditated. Practiced.
This is awesome news for you. It means you can cultivate the dialogue you need to hear and access it when you need it most.
Take out a pen and a piece of paper. Reflect for a few moments on some of the negative things you tell yourself throughout a day. Think of your points of difficulty and be honest with yourself. Nobody needs to see this list — it’s for you only. What do you tend to be hard on yourself or negative about? Maybe you harp on yourself about your unhealthy choices. Maybe it’s about your body image, being clumsy in Zumba class, or your less-than-perfect complexion. Or maybe your dialogue tends to be more negative about circumstances, stress, feeling overwhelmed, or being disorganized at home. Write ‘em down. Then, I want you to flip them with a positive spin.
Check it out: “I’m super stressed,” for example, can become “I have the power to shift how I feel about things.” “I’m exhausted from being up with the newborn” might change into “I’m blessed to spend time with this perfect little person.” Think of some great swaps for very specific negative triggers and also come up with a list of more general positive statements for use no matter what situation arises.
The thing is, you need to be prepared, but you also need to be honest. You can change your inner dialogue, but you can’t force it. For positive self-talk to work, you must believe what the voice is saying. So be thoughtful. Your positives should use words that have the most meaning to you. You’re going for impact here. Remember, these are your weapons to battle your long-practiced negative self-dialogue. They need to be good.
Once you feel you have some great go-tos to help you feel confident, control your emotions, enhance your focus, and maintain your energy levels throughout the day, read them. Repeat. Practice these lines over and over until they live on the tip of your tongue.
And when negativity tries to creep into your day, fire back with an empowering, uplifting positive statement. It will stop the downward spiral, improve your mood, and give you a sense of control over your feelings that will knock your socks off.