I surveyed a college team I work with, and asked them what they could use some help with. The majority of the responses centered around dealing with negative self-talk. As college athletes pushing themselves to their limits, making mistakes is simply part of the game right? What’s also part of the process is being overly critical of one’s self especially in the direct aftermath of a mistake. And when athletes (and coaches) can’t quickly move past a mistake and get back in the game, performance suffers. Sport mirrors life.
Have you ever been unkind to yourself? If you’re like most humans, you have – maybe daily. Even little things can get us mad at ourselves, like yesterday when I called myself an idiot for burning a bagel. There are big things too, and these can get pretty destructive. Repetitive negative thoughts about performance, body image, grades, effort, relationships can lead us into bad mental states. We can think, “am I good enough?”
The good news: You can do something about it.
There’s this thing that psychologists call the “negativity bias.” It explains why, if the average human has 50,000 thoughts per day, 75% are negative. It’s a survival mechanism wired deep into our DNA. See, when our ancestors were living in makeshift shelters on the edge of the forest, the guy who up and left when he thought he heard the lion rustling in the bushes survived and had kids, while the guy who thought it’d be cool to check it out didn’t. It also explains why so many people are drawn to negative news.
So we have this thing inside us that helps us survive, essentially by keeping us worried. In modern times, this worry and fear doesn’t serve us well. In sports, worrying makes players freeze up and coaches impulsive. Teams and players crumble when they start thinking the worst.
The more time we spend in a particular state of mind – say, worry in this case, then the more that state becomes who we are. Your mind works like your social media feed – you get more of what you click on. You become what you choose to pay attention to.
Back to the good news . . . you can choose to change the channel on that negative voice. Here are some things you can do:
Imagine seeing your best friend make a big mistake in front of a lot of people that ends up costing her team (work or sports) a victory. She is visibly distraught. What would you say to her to comfort her in that moment? In 7 words or less, write that down, and say it to yourself whenever you make a mistake. (Learn from the mistake too!)
If you catch yourself thinking poorly of someone else, try thinking of something positive you can see in them. If that isn’t working for you, try to imagine what they might be going through.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, try focusing on just enjoying the next 30 minutes, whether that’s your commute, a meeting you’re in, class you need to get to, work, or practice. If you look for the positive, I bet you can find it.
If you’re feeling sorry for yourself, remind yourself that if you’re reading this, there are billions of people on the planet who would happily trade places with you.
There have been times in my life where I’ve blamed myself for things that were out of my control. I’ve learned that, in being my own “coach,” it’s far better to encourage myself, to see the best in myself, to forgive myself, and to, as a student friend of mine says, “see the light in the little things.”
And yes, you’re good enough. Damn good enough.
Yours in practice,