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The Importance of Self-Talk

Posted by Debbie Wood on

Q: What do a rodeo barrel racing champion, a Hall of Fame inductee, an executive chef in a world-renowned restaurant, the number-one salesperson in a technology company, and a topflight forensic psychologist have in common?

A: Each has learned the importance of managing and controlling "self–talk." These are just a few of the diverse group of professionals I have been privileged to work with over the last 25 years, and yet thousands of people just like you and me in everyday walks of life have also seen dramatic changes in their world as they learn how to manage and control their self–talk.

Let's go deeper into this subject by understanding how our own self-talk, or as I like to call it, "the little voices inside of our head," literally affects all aspects of our world.

From the moment we wake up in the morning to the second we go to sleep at night, we are all thinking, daydreaming, wondering, worrying, and having conversations with our self whether we realize it or not. And the harsh reality is that most people's self-talk is rather brutal. People constantly ask themselves the wrong types of questions. They beat themselves up or occasionally find themselves in total denial of reality. I am not saying we should simply think positive and suddenly all of your challenges will be resolved by this time tomorrow. There's more to it than that.

The foundation of this article and those to come will be based on the power of self-talk. Let me put it into perspective. We are all conversing with ourselves at an incredibly fast rate of speed – perhaps 10 to 20 times faster than we can speak out loud. The average person tops out around 500 words per minute. Our internal thinking, our self- talk, is oftentimes running on nitro, going many times faster than we can talk out loud. Unfortunately, it is estimated that the average person's self-talk is between 60 and 85 percent negative, where the subject is thinking about what he or she doesn't want to occur in his or her world.

The analogy I came up with years ago to help people understand this concept is simply asking yourself if you would go to a grocery store with a list of things you don't need. Of course not! However, when we think about what we don't want in our lives, then it is every bit as absurd as going to the grocery store of life with a list of things we don't want to get.

Because most of the people reading this article are interested in barrel racing, let's look at some examples of how this could apply to your competitive world. How many times have we heard contestants ask the wrong questions? Things like, "Why can’t I relax?; Why aren’t the ground conditions better?; Why is it I can't ever seem to make a penalty-free run?; What will the other contestants think of me if my horse doesn’t run here like he runs at home?; Why doesn't my family understand the pressure I am under?”

What are you thinking about when you're preparing for your competition?

Whether you're a barrel racing fan, a horse owner, a sponsor, or the actual barrel racing competitor, I'm here to tell you that each and every one of you are governed, dictated, and controlled by your self-talk, and if a large percentage of it is negative, then we're wearing ourselves out. The good news is I can teach you how to change your self-talk in a relatively short period of time. If you follow along with these columns, you will see quick, positive, and permanent changes in your life that will help you get past all of the negative thoughts that weigh you down.

Let's start by acknowledging that we do talk to ourselves, and we really can't stop talking to ourselves. Just in case you're reading this and saying to yourself, "What is this guy talking about? I don't talk to myself, never have – why, only crazy people talk to themselves and I'm certainly not crazy." Now do I have your attention? See, we all do it.

Here's a good way for us to get started. First of all, I want you to try your best to be aware of your self-talk. Listen to what you're saying to yourself in different circumstances, and listen carefully. I'm not talking about what you're saying out loud as much has what you're thinking about all the time. Now, after becoming aware of your self-talk, try to identify some thoughts you know aren't doing you any good, be it personal or professional. When you do, try to stop that thought dead in its tracks and flip it around to what you do want to happen.

Perhaps you think, "I hate these ground conditions." First, let's acknowledge the fact you don't like the arena. That's okay. Now, think about this. Is that negative thought going to help you win the race? Probably not. Let's try flipping it around and thinking in terms of what you do want. How about: "I’m going to ride my horse balanced so his feet will stay underneath him" or "I want to stay calm and relaxed, professional, in control, at ease, and focused." Think about the reasons you don't like the arena and find a remedy. After some practice, this positive self-talk starts to take effect.

And you never want to stop. A young lady came up to me once and said, "Doc, how long do I have to keep doing this self-talk stuff?" And I said, "For the rest of your life." My friends, our thinking is the one thing we have control over literally every moment of every day, and by not taking control of our self-talk, we become victims of bad habits, poor attitudes, and negative opinions, many of which we are, unfortunately, unaware of.

In future columns, we will be examining how our self-talk affects everything in our world. From competitors, to rodeo staff personnel, to those who barrel race just for fun and to barrel racing fans, I want to impact everyone. Did we arrive with our negative beliefs just yesterday? Of course not. It may take us a little time to come up with solutions to some of life's challenges, but the time spent will be well worth it.

I was lucky enough to have lunch one day with Yogi Berra, and I asked him about his famous quote about how much of the game of baseball is mental. Sure enough, he reaffirmed that "90 percent of the game is half mental." Whether you're the competitor, a family member of the competitor, a fan, a sponsor, or the horse owner, 90 percent of the game is half mental. And we're going to fix you to make your racing, and your life, better.

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