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Self-Talk, the Quick, Simple, and Effective Tool to Achieve Your Best

confidence habits self leadership self-talk Feb 02, 2022

“You will become what you think about most:  your success or failure in anything, large or small, will depend on your programming-what you accept from others, and what you say when you talk to yourself”.

 Shad Helmstetter (What to Say When You Talk to Yourself)

Do you talk to yourself, or at least think to yourself often?  I certainly do.  Everyone does and it is perfectly natural.  Not only do each of us talk to ourselves, but we talk to ourselves a lot.

According to one study, we talk to ourselves at an amazingly fast pace of approximately 4,000 words a minute.  Yes, 4,000 words a minute.  The pace is astounding, but at 4,000 words a minute, consider the volume of self-talk you’re exposed to daily.  Then, and even more importantly, ask yourself if your inner dialogue is generally constructive, or destructive.

Self-talk is a simple and powerful tool that can significantly affect your performance both positively AND NEGATIVELY.  Whether you realize it or not, your self-talk is constantly reinforcing your default mindsets and is either helping you achieve your goals or hindering your effort. 

How many times have you heard someone say, “I stink” or “I’ll never get this” or “I can’t do that”?  I’ve witnessed a couple extreme examples of this, and it is sad to watch the impact long-term negative self-talk can have on an individual.  I’ve also seen and heard others encourage themselves with positive self-talk.  The difference is significant.

What is Self-Talk and How does it Affect Our Performance?

Self-talk is the constant dialogue we have with ourselves.  Some whisper to themselves, while others only think to themselves.  Both are normal, but this self-dialogue is critical to our performance. 

Self-talk contributes to our unconscious “operating system” that runs in the background that we typically don’t even realize.  A ‘healthy operating system” keeps us running smoothly and in a neutral to positive manner.  A “negative operating system” makes us vulnerable to “viruses” and hinders all aspects of our life.

Just like a computer’s operating system, self-talk continuously influences our thought patterns, shapes our performance and behavior in all aspects of life, and most importantly, creates and reinforces our belief system.  The more frequently we talk to ourselves, the more this cycle is reinforced, and the more likely it becomes our reality.

Remember our discussion about the science behind visualization.  Each time we visualize an action, we are reinforcing the same neurological pathways and creating “muscle memory”.  The same principle applies to self-talk.  The more frequent we repeat the same story to ourselves, the more meaningful and impactful the story becomes.  As a result, it can be powerful and constructive and help us achieve our goals, or, it can be destructive, and hinder our ability.

If unchecked, this negative self-talk can seriously damage our self-image and general outlook on life.  Lanny Bassham, an Olympic gold medalist says, “Your performance and your self-image are always equal”. 

Imagine being a:

  • Salesperson who struggles closing the deal and often thinks: “I am going to be lucky to get this contract”.
  • A floundering business owner who often thinks: “We’ll never turn a profit”.
  • A student who is struggling in class who constantly reminds himself or herself saying: “I hate this class; I will never be able to understand it”.
  • Someone who struggles to manage their weight and says: “this has never worked before, and likely won’t now”.

These repetitive and negative thought patterns are dangerous, destructive, unhelpful, and OFTEN REALIZED.  Frequently, we are our own worst enemy and beat ourselves before we even “take the field”.

How Can We Use Self-Talk to Improve Our Performance?

First, I recommend you conduct a self-assessment.  As you go about your day, note the frequency and content of your self-talk.  Is the self-talk negative or positive?  Is the self-chatter focused on a specific role, or across multiple or all roles in your life?  Is the self-talk consistent with your broader beliefs about yourself and your abilities?

This self-assessment is important and helps you identify trends that are potentially hindering your performance.  Realize the importance of self-talk and how it impacts your actions and beliefs system.  If your self-talk patterns are negatively oriented, recognize the need to change and act.

Second, a proactive and planned approach to managing your self-talk is important.  Don’t wait until the need arises and allow the negative emotions of the moment to influence your self-chatter.  Anticipate, prepare, and instill positive self-talk habits to maximize your performance.

I recommend two mutually supportive techniques.  You can use the simple and less formal approach of a mantra, or a more elaborate and complex approach of a script, or better yet, use both.  Both techniques used throughout the day during meditation sessions, short breaks, or reset sessions will help you create the important “muscle memory”.

This article will focus on mantras.  I’ll discuss scripts in a separate post.

Mantras

A mantra can be a motivating phrase, religious verse, a verse to a song, or anything that motivates or inspires you to become your best that you repeat frequently.  Your mantra may apply to a specific role or task within your life, or it may apply more broadly.  Keep it short, simple, positive, and repeat it often when walking, taking a break, exercising,  when challenged, when bored, or anytime when doubt creeps in. 

A couple points to remember. 

  1. Self-talk reinforces your core beliefs and default mindsets, so the more frequent you repeat your mantra, the better.  Examples may include:
    • “I’ve got this”.
    • “Been there, done that. I can do it again”.
    • “No stopping me today”.
    • “Bring it”.
  2.  You are going to talk to yourself, or at least think to yourself anyway, so it may as well be positive.  By itself, positive self-talk won’t win any championships, but coupled with commitment and hard work, you are more likely to achieve your potential with positive self-talk than with negative self-chatter.  The choice is yours. 

Positive self-talk is a simple and easy to use tool to help yourself achieve your best.  I’ve created a course designed to help you incorporate self-talk into your mental skills toolbox.  To learn more about my self-talk course, visit this link.

My next post will address “scripts, a simple, powerful, and integrative tool that incorporates mindset management, mental toughness, goal setting, visualization, and meditation techniques.

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