Negative thinking is a part of being human, but there are strategies you can use today to change your thoughts.
What we say to ourselves throughout the day may often seem like our mind aimlessly wandering, but that internal dialogue can prove to be extremely important to our mental health and well-being. It may seem trivial or unimportant, but the voice that you hear the most is your own. You are the one who spends the most time with yourself, so why would you subject yourself to constant criticism and negative thoughts throughout the day?
According to Dr. Christopher M. Carr’s study Sport Psychology: Psychologic Issues and Applications (Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Clinics of North America):
“If athletes are engaging in negative self-talk, their affective experience may be one of frustration, anger, or extreme anxiety. These emotional states challenge breathing, increase muscle tension, and create a loss of concentration and focus, resulting in lower performance. If an athlete’s self-talk is positive and relevant, however, the resulting emotional experience is one of relaxation, calmness, and feeling centered; as a result, the chances of good performance increase dramatically.”
While important for anyone, this is even more important for athletes to apply to improve their performance. Changing the way you talk to yourself is often a long adjustment process, but there are smaller steps that you can implement into your psyche immediately to help you get started. Effective self-talk is not just “staying positive”, but rather choosing to be understanding and patient with yourself as you build off of the progress you make each and every day.
We may not even be fully aware of the negative things we say to ourselves. How many times have you found yourself saying something like “way to go, idiot”, or “I could never do that”?
A more common mistake we make is not necessarily what we are saying to ourselves, but how we say it. For example, instead of approaching a stressful presentation saying “I hope I don’t blow it”, try to focus on a more positive approach to success. Say something like “I know I can do this”. While it may seem like a miniscule detail, the results of this practice can be astounding.
A very basic, yet beneficial, practice that you can implement in your life immediately is keeping a journal. Whether it is an old-fashioned pencil and paper or making a note on your phone, take some time each day – morning or night, whatever time works best for you – and write down some of your thoughts. You can then go back and read these entries later and notice how you speak to yourself. Make not of any negative comments, then rephrase them into positive comments. This will help you start the process of reframing how you talk to yourself.
Another strategy, which may seem a little far-fetched has been proven to be very effective. Wear a rubber band on your wrist and snap it each time you catch yourself thinking negatively. When you snap the rubber band, stop and rephrase the negative thought as a positive one. It may seem ridiculous at first, but soon you’ll find yourself snapping far less often. Not to mention your wrist will feel a lot better.
“Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right.” – Henry Ford