I’m a big believer in positive self-talk.

I know that sometimes it’s a lot easier said than done, but with a little bit of practice and quite a bit of perseverance it can soon become second nature – and could even change your life!

Who is in your head?

Who is talking to you?

Who are you listening to?

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Self-talk is going on in that head of yours ALL the time.  She can build you up, and help you take on the world, or she can bring you to your knees.

I don’t know about you, but my head is one noisy, busy place.  Our actions are inspired by our thoughts, indeed self-talk has been described as, “the key to cognitive control” (Bunker, Williams and Zinger, 1993) and therefore plays a really crucial part in not only what you achieve, how well you achieve it, but also how you just feel about your life.

There are four types of self-talk:

  1. postive “I am totally rocking this dress – I look and feel amazing”
  2. negative “These clothes are too tight and I feel fat, frumpy and my life a disaster…why did I eat those six Tim Tams?”
  3. instructional “Exhale on exertion”
  4. neutral “Apart from milk and bread, what else do I need to buy from Coles on the way home?”

Let’s be honest.  It’s often really easy to focus on the negative chit-chat.  Somehow that voice booms louder, clearer and oftentimes it become something of a downward spiral.  You obsess over one thing and suddenly you’ve gone from having a bloated premenstrual day into telling yourself in no uncertain terms that you are a lazy, cellulite-ridden failure who can’t control what she eats and therefore your life is all but over.  Regardless of the fact that your hair is shiny and beautiful, your skin clear and bright and in reality there is no earthly way that you have gained five kilograms overnight!

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The key to getting a handle on self-talk is this:

  • Become aware of the chatter.  Spend some time listening to the conversations that you have with yourself.  You may even need to write them down.  This will help you bring the positive chatter into the light and it will help bring some perspective to the negative stuff.  It will also show you how you might use neutral self-talk to block out or limit the downward negative spiral.
  • Monitor your self-talk.  Once you are really aware of the chatter, and you’ve analysed it, then you’re in a position to do something about it.  Start to question those negative thoughts…Can you really have changed so much overnight?  What would you say to your BFF if they told you what you’ve just said to yourself?  Where is the perspective in your self-talk?  Some people make a note of how many times they allow negative thoughts to settle.  If you then decide there is some merit to something you’ve told yourself, acknowledge it but then focus on what positive changes you can make right now to address it.
  • Change your self-talk.  So this is the biggy.  It takes a lot of practice and isn’t always easy and the first step is to catch the negative chatter before it has a chance to take hold.  Some people have an immediate response – a rebuttal if you like – that they use to stop the spiral in its tracks.  I’ve learned that for me I have to acknowledge the concerns and feelings first – to almost repeat the words back to myself as a way of seeing them for the silliness that they are.  Then the trick is to turn it round.  Some people are big into positive affirmations, a mantra that they have on hand to focus until positive chatter can take over.  Others just learn to give greater power to their positive voice, and tune out the negative.

I’ve spent a lot of time swimming up and down the 50m outdoor pool in training at Aquarena in Doncaster where my squad is based.  As an endurance freestyler I have had an awful lot of time to become aware of the chatter in my head.  In a 1500m race I am all alone with the blue line at the bottom of the pool and a mind full of chatter for a good 20 minutes of hurt.  I am very aware that the self-talk that goes on for each and every minute of the race has the power to make or break me.  It generally goes a little something like this…

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(waiting for the start, on the blocks) “Ok, breathe.  BIG breath. You CAN do this.  Just 15 laps.  Head down, bum up.  Breathe.  Bugger…go, go, GO!

(the first 100m) “Just let it happen, no major effort, just settle into your breathing and stroke.  This-is-one, this-is-one…”

I have this whole counting thing that I do to keep my stroke nice and long and also very importantly, it helps me keep track of my laps.  Some people count the 50m’s but I go with counting each 100m because it’s a smaller number and I don’t want to lose count.  But, the  counting is also great neutral chatter because there is a whole world of hurt involved in this endurance race and it helps to block out the pain and the negative chatter all at the same time…if I’m counting I can’t do anything else.

(200m) “This-is-two, this-is-two”

(300m) “This-is-three, this-is-three”

(400m) “This-is-four…wow, I’m doing it…I’m in the race and it’s happening.  Right, let’s focus and do this…this-is-four…”

(500m) “This-is-five…ok, that’s the first third done.  Time to really get into the rhythm, don’t get sidetracked and stay-on-rhythm…this-is-five”

(600m) “I’m catching the guy in the next lane!  Keep going you will take him on the next turn.  This feels good.  Nice and long.  Is it six?  Ok, yes it is…this-is-six, this-is-six…”

(700m) “Oh my gosh, my stomach!  Now this is so NOT the time to need a poo!  Oh my gosh.  This-is-seven, this-is-seven…”

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(800m) “It’s going to be mortifying if I have an accident in the pool!  Everyone is watching… maybe I’ll have to just get out.  Oh this hurts.  HURTS!  Is it eight?  Is it??”

(900m)  “Just breathe.  This-is-nine.  You aren’t going to poo in the pool, this happens every time.  It’s passing, the pain is passing.  It’s all going to be over soon and then you can go to the toilet.  Just focus on your breath.  This-is-nine.  Focus on your stroke.  Nice and long.  And look, you’re smashing that guy…he has nothing to come back with.  After the next one, it’s just five to go and you’re going to bring it home.  This-is-nine.”

(1000m)  “This-is-10.  Much better.  Back on track.  Keep going.  Stay long.  Long strokes.  Push right through at the back.  I know those arms are tired but stay nice and long.  This-is-10, this-is-10.”

(1100m) “Four more after this.  In two you’re going to start to pick it up.  Keep focused. Keep long.  Long and strong.  This-is-11, this-is-11…”

(1200m) “This-is-12, this-is-12. So say Geronimo, say Geronimo.  Bombs away, bombs away. Nearly there.  Nearly there.  This-is-12”

(1300m) “Time to get ready, just see if you can start to pick it up now.  Just a little bit of extra off the wall this time Thea.  Time to get ready for the last 200m  You’ve got this.  This-is-13!”

(1400m) “Ok, here we go.  Last 200m to bring it home.  Pick it up a little on this first 50m and then a bit more on the next one.  Not too much now, save  something for that last 100m.  Kick those strong legs.  White water.  Nice and long.  Big breaths.”

(1500m) “This is it now, Thea.  All you’ve got.  Leave nothing in this pool.  From the turn girl head down…and KICK!  Go!  I’m doing it.  I’m doing it!  Here are the flags, head down…no more breathing…to the wall…the wall…where’s the WALL??  Oh, thank goodness, the wall!!  Breathe…What was my time?”

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A whole lot of chatter.

There’s normally a good mix of positive, instructional and neutral chat going on during one of those long races and whenever that negative talk tries to get a foothold I jump on it.

It’s not easy.  And unfortunately it’s not always like this.  To swim 1500m in a race there’s a hell of a lot of training km’s to do.  There have been times when the negative stuff has swamped me and I’ve had no positive comeback.  I’ve swum with my goggles full of tears, my muscles screaming and my head full of unhelpful thoughts and feelings.  I’ve swum up and down telling myself over and over again how slow and rubbish I am, how terrible my stroke is, how my hips hurt and my kick doesn’t work…that I can’t keep with with the boys and I’m not good enough to train with them.  I’ve even gotten out half way through a set because I just couldn’t do it.

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But I know that the stuff that goes on in my head is the one thing stopping me from fulfilling my potential.  I can do it.  I just need to tell myself I can and then let my body do what it knows how to do.  And you can do it too…whatever you are wanting to achieve.  Get a handle on your inner-chat.  Be more self-aware and mindful about what you are telling yourself (and the universe) and see what you can achieve then…I think you might just surprise yourself.