“Self talk” is a word that describes the things we say to ourselves. It can be positive and encouraging; things like “Great shot, Mike!” or “Way to go!” are examples. Self talk can also be negative and discouraging. Examples of negative self talk are, “You never do anything right,” or “You’re not strong/fit/lean/smart enough.” Most of the time we are so accustomed to our thoughts and feelings about ourselves that we don’t even realize they are happening!
From a healthy lifestyle standpoint, our thoughts have a big impact on our motivation and success in achieving our goals. As the old saying goes, “If you think you can, you’re right. If you think you can’t, you’re right again.”
Being aware of our negative self talk is the first step to changing it. A recent study showed that using a journal is an effective way to increase awareness about negative self-talk that happens during a workout (Hardy, Roberts, and Hardy, 2009). Once you know it’s there, try “reverse listing” or “stopping” to change your thought patterns.
Reverse listing involves replacing negative statements with positive ones. For example, if you often tell yourself “I can’t do it,” you might replace it with “I’ll try my best.” Stopping mean that you choose a word to be your cue to stop thinking a specific thought. It can be as simple as telling yourself to “STOP!”
Like any habit, it takes time to change, and in comparison to training your muscles, working on your thoughts takes much more discipline. While we’re in the gym a few hours/day tops, our thoughts are with us 24/7! Along with journaling, I recommend yoga and meditation to help increase your self-awareness and calm your mind. It will take time to change your thoughts, but with diligence your inner self will be as strong and healthy as your physique.
Hardy, J., Roberts, R., and Hardy, L. (2009). Awareness and motivation to change negative self-talk. The Sport Psychologist, 23:435-450.