The Thanksgiving holiday is a symbol of gratitude. It is a time to reflect on the things we are grateful for in our lives and to give thanks to our loved ones and to those who have supported us along the way. According to the Oxford Dictionary, gratitude is the quality of being thankful; or a readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. Expressing our gratitude to others, and as a result, it can have powerful effects on our relationships. By expressing gratitude to others, we improve communication, strengthen individual bonds, show greater empathy, increase our likeability and thus our acceptance in a group, and improve teamwork and group productivity just to name a few of its benefits. But what about expressing gratitude to ourselves?
I don’t know about you, but when I think about expressing gratitude toward myself, I get pretty uncomfortable. I don’t know if it’s because it seems hokey and overly sentimental, or if I’m simply resisting the idea because I don’t know how to do it, or simply that I am afraid to (probably the later). Regardless, just as the expression of gratitude toward others has its benefits, so does expressing gratitude toward yourself. When you express gratitude toward yourself, you increase your overall sense of wellbeing, improve your more, experience more positive emotions, increase self-awareness and creativity. Physiologically, gratitude, toward self or others, boosts your immune system, reduces stress, improves sleep, lowers your blood pressure, and even reduces the experience of pain.
What in the world does this have to do with my golf game might you ask? Not surprisingly, how you talk to yourself doesn’t just improve your relationships with yourself and others, it also plays an important role in optimal performance as well. In the realm of sports psychology, positive 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 see 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. So, this Thanksgiving, make sure to not only make time to share your appreciation of others, but equally important is to make the time to appreciate yourself. Who knows, it might even lower your scores.
As an aside, for those reading this who find it difficult to quell the inner critic, Jordan B. Peterson, a Clinical Psychologist and best-selling author, offers the following helpful advice to consider when thinking about how to best take care of yourself. Peterson suggests that you “treat yourself as if you were someone that you were responsible for helping”.