How your self-talk might be holding you back and how to change that
Oh yes! Finally you’ve been asked to play with that prestigious orchestra.
You cannot believe it, and filled with anticipation, start practicing your part.
There is a passage that just doesn’t want to get better… you start thinking about the first rehearsal with pangs of anxiety.
’What if I make mistakes?’ …Slowly, more negative thoughts start dancing in your mind. ‘They will find out: I’m not ready’.
To make things worse, your mind offers catastrophic scenarios imagining everything that could possibly go wrong.
‘What was I thinking? Maybe I should just cancel the gig…I cannot play this.’
What happens next?
- you cancel the gig
- you play, but overcome by fear, you play waaaay below your level
- you play and witness the catastrophic script and film you created in your mind become reality.
By doing so you have made your worst fear come true.
I’ve been a bit dramatic here, but you get my point, right?
What is self-talk and where it comes from
Self-talk is that little voice in your head that is constantly active. If you’re asking: ‘what little voice?’ that’s the one. While reading these words, you are probably having a conversation with yourself considering what you think about what I’m writing, while reminding yourself of your to do list or other pressing matters.
Self talk comes from our left brain, our conscious mind. Our subconscious registers these thoughts and obediently carries out the “orders” given to it by our conscious mind. Like the captain on a ship giving instructions to the crew. The crew (subconscious) does exactly what the captain (conscious mind) commands them to do. It is totally non-judgmental and does not question “the boss.”
Very reliable system, although gullible. It doesn’t distinguish reality from what’s imagined. If you predict catastrophic scenarios, it will believe them to be real, and…carry that order out.
Feed it negative thoughts, negative outcome is what you get.
For example, if you repeatedly say to ourselves and others ‘I don’t function well under pressure’, your subconscious will sabotage your best efforts, so you ‘won’t function well’, because its duty is to ensure these “instructions” are followed. It doesn’t question whether these are “good” or “bad” instructions for us. It simply does what we have instructed it to do.
Why is important to talk about that? I often hear my trainees say, ‘but if we concentrate on that it will become worse, right?’ No, not really. Addressing it is the only way to ensure you improve the outcome of your efforts.
Self-talk is formed from our early life experiences
We believe and carry on what our parents, teachers and even friends, told us. We are so used to it, that we have become immune and accept it as reality. It is bewildering to see how we are very careful and choose supportive words to others, but do not treat ourselves with nearly that same care.
It’s also important to realize that the way we see ourselves is created by our own self talk, our subconscious then works hard to ensure our performance is consistent with our self concept, whatever that may be.
In order to change the outcome of your efforts, and give yourself a fair chance of success and happiness, you first need to be aware of what you are telling yourself. Be aware of your self-talk, and you can begin to turn things around.
Are you thinking this is too weird? A little exercise for you then: See what happens if you repeat to yourself for a day: ‘I feel sooo tired today’. On another day try, to see the difference: ‘I feel so full of energy today’.
Words are very powerful. Just think of the difference if you say to yourself, ‘this is difficult’. ‘Difficult’ puts a wall up…it implies you cannot. Try to feel what the word ‘challenging’ does instead. A totally different vibe, right? Now you want to see how you can tackle that challenge ;-)
What to do
You ‘simply’ reprogram what you believe you can do. Negative self-talk is a bad habit. It can be changed, just replace it with positive and productive thoughts. I.e. ‘I function well under pressure’. Yes, at first, you won’t believe it, but remember our subconscious is gullible, it accepts anything we tell it, and makes it happen. It doesn’t distinguish reality from imagination.
1. Monitor how you talk to yourself.
- Periodically during the day, but specially when going to practice, or while practicing, stop and evaluate what you’re thinking.
- Write down your thoughts, just as you hear them in your head.
2. Identifying negative thinking.
Here are some common forms of negative self-talk:
- You tend to focus on the negative aspects of a situation and filter out the positive
- You automatically blame yourself.
- You automatically anticipate the worst.
- You see things only as either good or bad. There is no middle ground.
- What worries and doubts do you give voice to?
Circle now anything that isn’t supportive or that doesn’t help you with your process.
3. Give that voice a name.
This will help see that voice as not your real, best ‘self’ and help rewrite your internal script. As you get better at recognising when that critical voice is in action, you can stop it immediately by saying f.i. “thanks xxx, but I don’t need you, I know what to do”…or “shut up xxx”.
4. Rewrite the script
Transform your negative thoughts into assertive, positive statement. Remember:
- our subconscious believes everything to be real (even when it is not)
- has no sense of humor (so avoid sarcasm)
- needs very clear instructions (what to do, not what NOT to do)
Be diligent and practice positive thinking every day, as it takes time to change habits.
Start by following one simple rule: Don’t say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to anyone else. Be compassionate and encouraging with yourself.
A few before & after examples:
- “I am not ready.” > “It’s an opportunity to learn something new.”
- “Don’t miss the entrance again” > “Just count”.
- “It is too difficult” > “I’ll tackle it from a different angle.”
5. Surround yourself with positive people.
Negativity, like positivity is contagious. Make sure you are surrounded by positive, supportive people you can depend on to give helpful advice and feedback. And be yourself that positive, supportive person.
Successful performers expect things to work out; they believe that no matter what, they will have the tools to adapt and make the best of it.
Try this for a while and let me know how it goes. I am sure you will notice the difference in your life very soon.
You are as good as you allow yourself to be.
Resources & links:
- Watch a Whiteboard Video on The Critical Inner Voice:
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