By Olympian Courtney Thompson
“You should exercise unrelenting discipline over your thought patterns. Cultivate only productive attitudes… You are the product of everything you put into your body and mind.” -I Ching
In my experience, it’s pretty safe to assume that everyone wants to be confident. No matter what you are doing: Playing a game, giving a speech, on a date, or taking a test at school, it’s going to be infinity more enjoyable when you feel good about who you are in that moment. In other words, confident in your own skin.
I know from personal experience how painful it is to NOT be truly myself in a given moment. It’s a feeling, in my opinion, significantly worse than losing or failing or any of the things we spend time worrying about.
This is my challenge to the athletes I work with: Fight and work towards being your true self, nothing more and nothing less, in every environment you walk into. You deserve that, but you also have to work for it.
Confidence comes from a few places: Hard work (which I wrote about in 8 reasons no one cares you are tired), and from our inner belief about who we are. One of the most powerful ways to influence our inner belief is by controlling the voice in our head that only we can hear: Our self-talk.
Believe it or not, your brain is a muscle; this means we have to train it like any other muscle in our body: with intention, with repetition, and with a relentless approach, because change is never easy. I believe (because I’ve experienced it myself) that improving your self-talk will not only take your game to the next level, but make your entire experience of competing significantly more enjoyable. And most of all, it will allow you to bring your true self in anything you are doing. So with that in mind…
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Despite what it feels like at times, you are not your thoughts. But your thoughts can effect your entire experience if you are not aware and intentional about their direction. What’s really exciting about this is that this enormous power allows us a great opportunity; with mindfulness and intention we can train our brain to help move towards becoming a better version of ourselves. As one of my sports psychologist (Micheal Gervais) says, the discipline is making a choice to react to a situation in a way that is in line with our values.
We do that by choosing how we perceive a situation, which comes from what we tell ourselves. Let me give you an example:
In volleyball, it’s inevitable that at some point an athlete will miss a serve. The player that chooses to respond with positive self-talk such as “I’m loose, aggressive, and I will hit the next one” has a better chance of nailing the next serve than the player that responds with “SHOOT! I felt terrible in warm ups and now I can’t hit anything, my coach is gonna take me out.” That player might start making more mistakes, get down on their teammates, have poor body language, stop working hard, or a number of negative reactions that don’t line up with how they really want to behave.
Every day we have opportunities to ‘correct’ our thoughts or choose how to respond to small failures like missing a serve. If we value courage and hard work we can choose thoughts that help us behave with those traits. This takes a constant effort, but will have limitless positive effects on not only your skills, but how much fun you have while playing.
Self-talk has been shown to increase performance in even simple tasks like balancing exercises; imagine what it can do for you going into a big game, a big test, or a big interview!
The catch is that no one can do this work for you. Training your brain is something only you can control. It is up to us to coach ourselves to move towards success and much of that can be accomplished by the inner voice that can either inspire us or fill us with self-doubt.
Remember that anything worth doing is going to be a struggle. There is no way around that, and honestly that’s part of the reward. Training the way you talk and relate to yourself is just another opportunity for us to separate ourselves from the pack. If it was easy, everyone would do it.
Positive self-talk isn’t about rainbows and butterflies, it’s about believing in yourself so much that you hold yourself to high standards. The easy thing to do is let your thoughts dictate your mood, your feelings, and your experiences, and to spiral into a train of negative thoughts when things go wrong. Not only is that a terrible thing to do (I’ve been there many times) but that leaves you at the whim of whatever thoughts pops up in your head that day.
With self-talk, you can choose to be intentional about how you will react to the inevitable challenges that pop up. That doesn’t mean you can’t kick yourself back into gear by telling yourself you can work harder, have a better attitude, or even reminding yourself that you can stop feeling sorry for yourself. Choosing to have discipline over your thoughts is about believing that you have amazing potential, and part of that is holding yourself to high standards.
In my experience, if you are building yourself up with positive self-talk you automatically do the same with others. You hold them to a high standard, you believe in them, and you naturally want to bring them up to your level of confidence.
Meanwhile, trying to do the opposite (bringing people up and hoping that it makes you feel better) is really, really hard. When you are having a bad day and you're riding the 'negative train' (you know what the 'negative train' is if you’ve ever been on it) it’s really hard to positively effect others, even with the best of intentions. Invest in yourself, in training your brain, so you can be better for those around you.
Life is full of a lot of really cool opportunities, but cool opportunities can also be a little scary too. The best part is we have the opportunity to look at any situation as either a fun challenge or a daunting threat. According to Dr. Ashley Merryman, it comes down to choosing C or T, is this a Challenge or is this a Threat? One is based in fear and one is based in motivation and excitement.
I am sure that when you look back on your sports career, your memories, experiences and growth will not be determined by your failures or successes, but rather how you choose to respond to each. Training your brain to have a perspective that helps you learn and grow will take your game to the next level, and make every experience a whole lot more fun!
To learn more about how self-talk can help build unrelenting confidence from the inside out, join us in our Free Coaches Masterclass, GameFace: Inside The Minds Of Great Competitors.