What do you say to yourself when you’re in the alley getting ready to race? You might say things like, "I had two good runs, but I always blow the third run." And sure enough, what do you do? You blow it.
What happens is that you have a self-image – a picture of yourself and your behavior in any particular situation. You talk to yourself about this self-image, and then you go out and perform. Afterward, based on the result of your action, your self-talk either reinforces the self-image ("Yes, that's just like me" or "I always do that") or it negates the self-image. If your self-talk negates the self-image, you usually try to justify the result of your action. For instance, in competition, if you are used to always blowing it on the third run, and for some reason you didn't blow it this time, your self-talk is "I don't know what happened this time. I got lucky," and you start running yourself down or making a justification, so that you can retain your self-image – your comfort zone.
We're pretty hard on ourselves, usually for no good reason and certainly to no good end. Would you let me talk to you the way that you sometimes talk to yourself? Of course not, and you'd be right to stop me. Yet we have no problem doing this to ourselves over and over.
A lot of self-talk is about what we don't want: what we don't want to do, what we don't want to take place, or what we don't want to say. That's what worry is – a form of negative self-talk about the things that we don't want to take place. Instead, we need to emphasize what we do want.
Mark Mosely, who played for the Washington Redskins, was in the Super Bowl several years ago. Mark was being interviewed after the game, which the Redskins lost, and he said, "You know, I had a funny feeling all week long that I was going to miss the field goal. And sure enough, that’s what happened."
Now, what would Mark Mosely have given to understand how to manage and control his self-talk in that situation? The feeling he was getting was coming from the self-talk that he had inside of his head. And not only what would he have given, but what would the other players on his team have given to have him understand that?
The computer industry uses the acronym "GIGO: garbage in, garbage out." We can apply this same acronym to our minds; if we put negativity into our minds, we should expect to get negativity as a result. If 60-85% of self-talk is negative, and we're talking to ourselves many times as fast as we can verbalize, we're putting a lot of negativity, and possibly misery, into our lives. We can't stop talking to ourselves, so if we want to live positive lives, if we want to increase our happiness and success and reach our potential in life, then we'd better learn how to make our self-talk positive.
Jim Will, Ph.D.