Controlling your Inner Voice
We often forget the power of our own thoughts. All day you have a running dialogue in your head, whether it’s giving yourself a motivational pep-talk or running through different scenarios of what you’re going to say or do. That voice in your head is always there.
Unfortunately, for all the times these thoughts are positive, there are times when these thoughts are negative, for example, berating yourself for something you didn’t do properly or telling yourself a task is too hard and you can’t do it. What we think can have a massive impact on our actions and how we respond to situations. Such negative self-talk doesn’t help performance and in most cases, can hurt or hinder it.
Don’t think about a polar bear.
What did you just think of? It was likely a polar bear (although anyone who knows me will have heard me use this example so many times they probably didn’t think of the polar bear anymore and so I should really start mixing it up!).
By telling ourselves not to think of something you are telling your brain about the thing you don’t want to be thinking about! It’s quite ironic really. Relating this to trampolining, if you keep telling yourself you “don’t want to fall off” then your brain will focus on the falling off element. That is why it is so important to really be aware and take note of what it is you are thinking as the way you think can impact your performance in both a good and bad way.
So, what should your little voice be saying?
Firstly, getting a handle on your self-talk is not an easy task. But once you are aware and know what you are saying to yourself, you can take control of it. Using positive self-talk that motivates or reminds you to focus like “keep going” or “one move at a time” can help you to focus your attention and trigger the required actions. These cue words or phrases can be instructional, focusing on technique or specific elements of your skills.
With the requirements of trampolining, its small margins for error and a heavy emphasis on technical perfection, it is important to use instructional self-talk to remind yourself of your key focal points. Your self-talk can also be motivational to drive you on when things are tough and not going the way you had planned, or praising yourself and pushing you to reach your goals. There will always be times where you need to boost your confidence or control your nerves and this type of self-talk is a great way of doing that.
Whichever type you use the most effective use of this strategy is to control and direct your self-talk so you are focusing your attention on the moment and the task at hand. Preparing yourself for it by telling yourself what you want to do instead of what not to do. By discarding self-talk detrimental to your mental state and performance and using self-talk that motivates or reminds you of what to focus on, you have a much better chance of producing the routines or passes the way you want to.
Steps to control your self-talk:
1. Be aware. Notice what you are saying to yourself. You could use a training diary to log your thoughts, raising your awareness to whether you are being positive or negative. By tuning in to your self-talk you will start to notice whether it is helpful or harmful.
2. Stop the negative. Once it is identified, learn to stop it. This can be easier said than done but find cues that help you to stop the thoughts such as saying ‘stop it’ or visualising a big, red stop sign.
3. Replace with positive. Identify positive self-talk or instructional cues that you can have at the ready to replace the negative and unhelpful thoughts when they occur.
4. Practice thought stopping. As with everything, this takes practice and with enough of it positive and instructional self-talk will become second nature. Practice different scenarios where what you have thought has impacted your performance or you know you have been negative, stop the negative thoughts and replace them with the right ones.
Providing support across a range of sports, Emily offers one-to-one sessions, group workshops and tailored strategies for both athletes and coaches at all levels designed to enhance mental performance in sporting environments. For more information or to contact Emily: direct email firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet her @EMsportsci.