Talking myself out of a negative mindset

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This weekend, I returned to Coed y Brenin. I had returned with the notion that I would run through the Gold Rush trail, to test out how my new attitudes towards motivation would affect my performance. However, I had not prepared for it to snow – and I had turned up in a vest and shorts. Luckily, I had packed a thermal top just in case, but nevertheless I was annoyed at myself for not preparing better. The snow was heavy, and I was concerned that running 14k in shorts might make me ill and affect my future training. So, I chose instead to run the Sarn Helen – long route, a 9k trail run. It was 5 kilometres less than I had anticipated running, so I was already feeling pretty negative before I had even set off.

As I ran, I could barely see what was ahead of me. My face and eyes were being attacked by millions of little pieces of ice and I couldn’t help feeling embarrassed as I ran past others, who were decked out in all their weather-appropriate gear. I could feel my negative attitude having more and more of an impact on my performance, until I stopped running entirely. I took a moment to reflect. I had two choices: I could spend the whole day sulking and beating myself up, which would only make the run less enjoyable and much more slow. Or I could choose option two, to find the humour in my situation and continue spurring myself on; finding enjoyment wherever I could. I found that I was giving myself mental pep-talks as I trudged through the wet mud and squinted through the snow. I took moments to look around at my surroundings, and appreciate how lucky I was to live so close to such beautiful places. The run went quicker than I had expected, and by the time I finished, I felt myself wishing there was more!

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The Sarn Helen – long route. Coed y Brenin

Psychologists would call this phenomenon self-talk. Self-talk can be defined as an automatic dialogue that we have with ourselves while performing a number of tasks (Hardy, 2006). Self-talk has been found to be effective in enhancing performance and learning new skills (Rokke & Rehm, 2001). In a recent review, Hardy et al. (2008) outlined four mechanisms to help explain the relationship between self-talk and performance: Cognitive, behavioural, motivational and affective. Cognitive mechanisms of self-talk refer to an athlete’s ability to enhance their concentration, and focus their attention on the task at hand. For example, a study wherein athletes were asked to practice self-talk techniques, Hatzigeorgiadis et al. (2007) found a significant decline in the amount of interfering thoughts the athletes reported experiencing. Motivational mechanisms of self-talk can be described as the use of self-talk in order to further motivate an athlete’s actions, and has been found to have a positive effect on performance (Scully and Lowry, 2002). Behavioural mechanisms of self-talk postulate that self-talk can actually have an effect on the sporting technique of the athlete who uses them. For example, a study examining novice tennis players found that their forehand technique improved while utilising self-talk techniques (Cutton and Landin, 2007). Finally, affective mechanisms refer to how self-talk can be used to change the mood state of an athlete, as negative moods such as anxiety have been found to negatively impact performance (Woodman and Hardy, 2003). For example, a study wherein participants were asked to take part in a water polo shooting task found that anxiety levels were significantly decreased when participants engaged in anxiety-control self-talk (Hatzigeorgiadis et al., 2007).

With these mechanisms in mind, I took a closer look at each category, and how these may affect my performance. Below is a spider diagram of each mechanism, and how they can be related to my own performance.

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The question I was left with after researching self-talk was this: but is it really that easy? I know that, for me (as well as I’m sure it is for 99.9% of the population), it’s so easy to get weighed down by the negatives. Not feeling good enough, not feeling fit or capable enough; it only takes one small thing to affect your attitude entirely. I recently watched a Ted Talk lead by Alison Ledgerwood, a social psychologist. In the video, she outlines different ways that our minds get stuck in the negatives, and how we can change this. She ends the talk with this quote: “Our minds may be built to look for negative information and to hold onto it. But we can also retrain our minds if we put some effort into it, and start to see that the glass may be a little more full than we initially thought.”

When I think back to my latest trip to Coed y Brenin, I realise how powerful it was that I made a conscious choice to “unstick” myself from my own negative attitude. I knew that my mindset was going to be of no help to me and would only slow me down, so I did something about it. When I first started this module, I would have laughed at whoever told me I had the power to change my thinking. I saw myself as a helpless person who was a slave to their anxious mind. As I move further along with my training, I realise that I was completely wrong. Everybody has the power to be positive, to feel good about themselves, to feel competent and to feel successful – it all comes down to how you think. As I continue with my training, I will be utilising the power of self-talk to help me cross barriers that my negative mind would have told me I’d never be able to. Because when it comes to race day, I am the only person who is going to help me cross that finish line. I am my own hero!

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And just like that, the sun came out. Positive mind, positive weather!

References

Cutton, D. M. and Landin, D. (2007). The effects of self-talk and augmented feedback on learning the tennis forehand. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 19, 288–303.

Hardy, J. (2006). Speaking clearly: A critical review of the self-talk literature. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 7(1), 81-97. DOI:10.1016/j.psychsport.2005.04.002

Hardy, James & Oliver, Emily & Tod, David. (2008). A Framework for the Study and Application of Self-talk within Sport.

Hatzigeorgiadis, A., Zourbanos, N. and Theodorakis, Y. (2007). The moderating effects of self-talk content on self-talk functions. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 19, 240–251.

Rokke, P. D., & Rehm, L. R. (2001). Self-management therapies. In K. S. Dobson (Ed.), Handbook of cognitive-behavioral therapies (pp. 173–210). New York: Guilford Press.

Woodman, T. and Hardy, L. (2003). The relative impact of cognitive anxiety and self-confidence upon sports performance: a meta-analysis. Journal of Sports Sciences, 21, 443–457.

“The Little Engine that Could” poem source: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Christopher_Neck/publication/243997026_I_think_I_can_I_think_I_can_A_self-leadership_perspective_toward_enhancing_entrepreneur_thought_patterns_self-efficacy_and_performance/links/551d9d000cf29dcabb030c14.pdf

 

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