Article written by:

Stephen Rendall
Ba.Ex.Sci, Ba.Psych
Grad.Dip.Psych, M.App.Psych(Sport), Assoc MAPS

As human beings we talk to ourselves almost continually, with a kind of running commentary on our own life. This process often happens automatically and we don’t even notice that it’s happening.

The content of this internal commentary is extremely important and can have a large effect on how you feel and how you perform in your sport, work and overall life.

Positive self talk keeps the mind occupied which enables the body to act automatically. It can also increase confidence, improve focus and concentration, and enhance motivation. Alternatively negative self talk can distract individuals from the task at hand and create less than positive emotions. Negative self talk results in strong self criticism which causes you to search for what you are doing wrong rather than what you are doing right. Once self criticism kicks in, over-analysis occurs, confidence is replaced by doubt and emotionality, automatic movements are replaced by carefully considered movements that lack flow and rhythm, and your performance suffers.

How to change your self talk:

Increase awareness: In order to change your self talk you need to become aware of your thoughts as they happen. This will enable you to evaluate whether the content of your thoughts are negative or positive. Pay attention to your thought process before during and after your performance.

Evaluate your self talk: If your self talk is negative analyse and challenge your thoughts with the following questions:

  • Is there any evidence to support this thought?
  • What is the evidence against this thought?
  • Are there any positive ways of viewing this situation?
  • What would I say to a friend or teammate who is in my position?
  • If there is evidence supporting the thought ask yourself whether this thought is helpful or not helpful? If the thought is not helpful then there is no point expending energy thinking about it.

Modify your self talk: If you decide your self talk is unhelpful replace your negative thoughts with more positive alternates and reframe negative thoughts and perceptions in a more positive way.
For example: Negative thought- “I can’t believe I dropped that easy mark, I’m a terrible footballer”
Reframe- “That was an easy mark that I would usually take, I made a mistake this doesn’t mean I’m a bad footballer, everybody makes mistakes during a game even champion AFL players. I’ll concentrate harder and ensure I mark the next one when the opportunity comes.”

Changing self talk is just like learning to kick a perfect drop punt – it takes time, practice and patience. Our ways of thinking are usually heavily ingrained, you will need to constantly practice the steps above until positive self talk becomes second nature.