In the realm of sports psychology, positive self-talk, or motivational self-talk, is one of the core psychological skills of the elite athlete. The best athletes in the world talk to themselves differently. They are more optimistic and hopeful. They are resilient in the face of adversity, and in fact, welcome adversity seeing it as an opportunity to learn and improve. They praise themselves for their successes and forgive their mistakes and failures. Negative thoughts and appraisals are seen as mental interference to be ignored rather than accepted as truths and self-fulfilling prophecies.
Why do the best athletes practice positive self-talk? Although that might be true in some cases, I don’t think it is just because they are inherently positive people. I believe the best athletes think this way because it puts them in an optimal mindset to succeed. Here are some of the potential benefits of practicing positive self-talk:
- Increased sense of calm
- Feeling in control
- Positive/Optimistic attitude & mood
- Less impulsive
- Openness to others
- Increased creativity
- Cognitively flexible
- Increased self-efficacy
- Positive evaluation of performance
- Increased self-awareness
- Improved cognitive functioning
Developing a practice of positive self-talk should underlie all you do as an athlete (and hopefully as a person). Whenever you are practicing or in competition, pay attention to how you’re talking to yourself. What is the quality of your internal dialogue? Are you being positive, accepting, and encouraging? Or, are you being negative, rejecting, or overly critical? If you’re leaning toward the negative, do your best to reframe your thinking by spinning it toward the positive. Work to be encouraging and supportive rather than destructive. Developing the ability to recognize when the quality of your self-talk is getting in the way of your performance is an invaluable skill that will help clear the way for you to achieve your goals and one that the best athletes in the world ascribe to their success.
If you’re looking for more information about the power of positive self-talk consider The Confident Mind, by Dr. Nate Zinsser. It was a game changer for me and is loaded with easy to follow exercises to help improve the quality of your inner dialogue.