Don’t Just Listen to Yourself, Talk to Yourself

Author: Donato Fanelle, MA

It’s the night before the championship game. You have worked so hard all year for this opportunity, but now your mind is running wild. You think about all the reasons why you might fail and question if you are good enough to succeed. You think about how talented your opponent is and how inadequate you are. The more you listen to these negative thoughts, the more you begin to believe them. You begin to feel scared, anxious, and intimidated—not the ideal feelings to have before the big game. Although it is completely normal to have some fear and anxiety before a big game, if you believe the negativity, it will be challenging to play up to your potential. So instead of listening to your negative thoughts, take control — talk to yourself through positive self-talk!

Self-talk is your internal dialogue—it’s what you say to yourself, usually not out loud. It’s the conversation that you have with yourself in your own head. Sometimes the chatter is loud, sometimes it’s quiet—but nonetheless, we constantly evaluate, judge, analyze, and form opinions about our circumstances. Usually it’s not the situation itself that is frightening or stressful, but rather it’s how we perceive the situation that causes fear and stress. And that perception stems from our self-talk.

Here is how self-talk influences our performance:

Thoughts (self-talk) lead to certain feelings (emotions), and those feelings lead to certain behaviors (actions/performance).

Let’s take the night before the championship game, for example. Here is how negative self-talk can impact your performance:

Same scenario, but here is how positive self-talk can impact your performance:

The scenario is the same: the night before the big game. However, in on instance you played timid and gave up when facing adversity, but in the other instance you were focused on the present moment and had fun. While the scenario may be the same, using positive-self talk changed your perception about it from something that is unhelpful to something that is helpful!

Self-talk can be used to build confidence, manage emotions, and control effort. While positive self-talk itself does not guarantee that you will be successful, you will feel more confident and take more effective action, which gives you a much better chance of being successful. On the other hand, being negative and pessimistic makes it much more likely that you will not be successful. And just to clarify, using positive self-talk does not mean that everything has to be all sunshine and rainbows. If your team is down 50 to 0 at halftime and you come in the locker room saying “golly gee-whiz, what’s most important is that everyone has fun,” your teammates and coaches might think you need to be evaluated for a head injury. Using positive self-talk means being both realistic and optimistic at the same time. It’s about not dwelling on past mistakes and not getting worked up about things that may or may not happen in the future. It’s about being in the present moment, focusing on the next step ahead of you. Using positive self-talk means instead of saying things like “I have no chance, I should just give up” if you are losing at halftime, saying things like “keep fighting, take it one play at a time.”

Start to become aware of your self-talk and how that is impacting your emotions and performance. If you catch yourself using negative self-talk, replace it with something more optimistic. Don’t feed into the negativity — take control of your actions and utilize positive self-talk!