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Self-Talk: Are You Conditioning Your Mind for Mastery or Misery?

Today we’re discussing self-talk! Self-talk to me is just one parcel of our mental mastery…one component of what high performers practice as part of their mindset training.

We’re going to talk about what most people do, what not to do, and what you can implement immediately to condition your mind most effectively. I’m going to be giving you personal examples, client examples, and show you what the research says!

You know, we train our bodies (most all of you watching exercises regularly, right?), we train our skill—our craft and what we do on a daily basis for our careers—but how many of us actively and deliberately train our minds? Clearly, it’s my aim to help each of you learn how to do so and to understand how vitally important it is for living your lives and meeting your goals. But it’s often the last piece that people move toward conditioning. I don’t think we can look at our thoughts as an afterthought.

Most of us can relate to beating ourselves up when we experience an unfortunate circumstance. A client I spoke with yesterday said that her most prominent self-talk of late was “what’s wrong with me?” Ever said that to yourselves? She continued with self-talk including, “I can’t do this,” “no one would understand,” “I don’t trust people.” What feelings do you think these statements and questions led to for her?

She’s also conditioning her mind to see the negative in everything, to fault herself and not see that there is responsibility elsewhere, and to believe that she’s incapable. She is, through that self-talk, also changing the architecture of her brain to response more intensely and more often to threat…and not in a beneficial way.

Studies show that people who respond instead with compassion to weaknesses, mistakes, or setbacks — rather than blasting, blaming, or shaming themselves — experience enhanced physical and mental health, greater resilience, and the ability to bounce back more quickly from stress and challenges.

There are 3 pieces to responding with compassionate self-talk:

1) Common humanity: you essentially are reminded that you are connected to and a part of the larger whole of this world community. The human experience is sometimes awesome, most times mundane, and at times pretty sucky! We are reminded that we’re more similar than we are different. We are not alone.

2) Understanding: we approach ourselves like we would a friend; this strategy is helpful because it gives us a bit of distance from the emotion that we may be experiencing. It’s often easier in a sense to speak to a friend who is suffering than ourselves.

3) Acknowledging the negative but not catastrophizing (blowing it out of proportion): self-compassion is not an ignorant way of responding; we aren’t ignoring that something less than ideal has occurred, and we’re not ignoring that we feel pain or discomfort. In fact, that’s what we do first. “We can say, this sucks…and it’s not all bad. I can do this with some effort.” In essence, it helps us to establish some level of balance and equanimity.

One of the misunderstandings about self-compassion is that it’s this soft, airy-fairy approach, and it’s exactly the opposite. Self-compassion demands acknowledgement. That can be soft, but it more direct than anything. It’s also an invitation to take responsibility. And what researchers have shown in the lab is that when experimentally induced, self-compassion prompts increased motivation to improve…not a lazy, “it’s all good” sort of approach.

Now here’s what research shows to be the most helpful sort of approach for talking to ourselves, particularly in tough situations…emotionally challenging situations…or those times that we can all relate to when we’re “this close” to stopping…

Take a 3rd person stance! Two reasons why this is effective:

1. We are so much better at and well-practiced at showing kindness and compassion to others, right? And because we are more accustomed to doing so, it’s easier! So saying to ourselves, “Okay, Kori, you can power through” or “Propst, you know the drill…just…keep…pedaling” it’s like we’re coaching someone outside of ourselves! And that bring us to…

2. When you speak from the third person perspective, you create some distance between you and the uncomfortable emotion! You’re not ignoring it; you feel as if you’re a bit more on the outside of it though! You move from “I am” … whatever emotion there is…to a “this is and experience of….” Whatever emotion. And that can prompt a calmer, more balanced perception of the situation! So it’s really like you’re watching the movie versus staring in it!

On a more chronic level, confidence is influenced by self-talk and what we tell ourselves. If we are willing to practice conditioning our minds toward more sensitive attention to thought patterns or tendencies, or tone, or images, we become more fluid and adaptive at making positive course corrections in ways that build greater confidence. Like we train our bodies to become more agile, flexible, strong, and healthier, so too do we need to train our minds.

When you consider the hardware that the mind must operate in concert with (the brain), our mind (the software) has a big job and one that requires significant training! Our brains are biologically wired to detect threat, to look for the negative, and to respond in a way that says, “put your guard up!” Talking to ourselves negatively, blasting ourselves with accusations, tearing ourselves down—that is falling prey to the brain’s biological nature. Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with our brains. But the mind, when we condition it, can be trained to override those messages of threat so that we can move more adaptively through difficult circumstances. And more than that, so we can grow and really thrive.

I was working with a client yesterday and we were discussing how we can look at this from a physical training perspective. Training the mind is like training the body in that it needs to be stressed in order to get stronger. Imagine that you have a goal of squatting 225 lbs. That’s the outcome you’re looking for! Well, you wouldn’t go into the gym, load 225 lbs onto the bar and try to squat. You’ll be crushed! Physically and mentally! It’s progressive overload that we’re looking for! We load the bar to slightly above what we know we are currently capable of so we can test what we’ve been training.

But guys, it all starts with awareness. When my clients ask me how to stop beating themselves up, it doesn’t start there. We don’t just stop. We have to get some clarity around how it happens.

So we start with noticing when it happens, where it happens, and how it happens. We get input or feedback both internally and externally. That’s valuable. We can ask in what situations we tend to have thoughts that produce negative emotions- fear, anxiety, discouragement. Are there certain people we are around that prompt negative thinking or self-talk? And then we can become aware of the nuances of those thoughts—what are our patterns and what do those thoughts do? Are they screaming at us or just whispering? Do they come in fast or drift in slowly?

My point is this: we gain awareness first. We just learn to notice and observe what goes on up there. Then we can develop skills to adjust, adapt, and course-correct!

Now, when we do course-correct, it might be done in a number of ways. Again, imagine you’re getting on stage to speak to a group of people. You notice self-talk like, “I wish I’d practiced this more” or “I’m sweating…that can’t be a good sign.” You’re aware that this type of talk is maladaptive. It won’t help you perform your best. So you course-correct. You can offer yourself 4 types of positive self-talk:

a) Instructional self-talk

b) Inspirational self-talk

c) Inquisitive self-talk

d) Imagery

Everyone is going to find something that works for them. Just like our nutrition and diets, we need to tailor it specifically to what resonates most with us. What we’re doing here though is we’re moving from internal to external. In performance situations, you don’t want to be “in your head” about what you’re doing, how you’re moving, what you’re saying and how you’re saying it. Ideally, you reach a flow state. We can get into that more later, but you find a voice that is warm, kind, and uplifting to you.

Instructional self- talk in this situation might be like this: Walk tall, sister! Speak from your heart and have a conversation with your audience!

Inspirational self-talk might sound like this: You got this! You’re walking into an opportunity!

Inquisitive self-talk might be like: Ready to rock this? Ready to show them how to achieve their best?

And imagery is very personal too. You might in the moment before you walk out on stage imagine all the energy from you and the audience converging in one big explosion.

So in review, remember that everything you do, say, feel, or think has the potential to become a habit—one that is aligned with your personal philosophy and values or one that moves you further from them. How are you conditioning your mind through your self-talk?

Thanks for watching! Please like, share, and subscribe to the channel where you can find all of my videos! And share your thoughts! Let’s get a conversation going!

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