Posted in Life as Sport

Self-Talk

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You’ve heard it before—and have probably even said it before.

“Story of my life . . . ”

It’s the middle of a stretch of bad luck or bad outcomes, and one more unpleasant thing comes piling on. A flight gets canceled. An important client backs out of a meeting and takes his or her business to somebody else. A player is making the familiar walk from the shower to his locker the week before spring training ends and slips and breaks his wrist.

“That’s pretty much the story of my life,” he says.

If you’ve said those words (or ones like them) to yourself, you might think they’re a natural response to the frustration that comes from an unfortunate series of events. It is natural, but the words aren’t just a response to negative events; they’re actually reinforcing a pessimistic, negative perception you have about yourself and your future.

Say them often enough, and you’ll actually start expecting negative things to happen in your life, a way of living that may prevent your success.

When I’m working with a client who says something like that in a session, I’ll stop them with a simple question: “What is the story of your life?”

At first they’re a little confused about what kind of answer I want. I explain to them that we all have a “life story” we tell ourselves in order to make sense of our experiences. If you’re a salesman with twenty years of record-breaking experience at your company and you get shut out by a client, you would probably react to that event internally and emotionally in a different way from how a beginner in his or her first week on the job would.

In the world of athletics somebody like Tom Brady has a different “life story” running through his head during a playoff football game from a younger, less experienced quarterback. That inner “soundtrack” lets him process things on the field much differently and recover more quickly from mistakes. “It could be a bad play that happened or an interception or a turnover or something, and [Brady] would come to the sideline and say, ‘Okay, let’s talk about what happened on that play,’ said New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. “He would say, ‘This is what I saw. This is what happened. This is what this guy did, this is what that guy did, this is what the safeties did, this middle linebacker was here. This is what I saw on the route.’ Then you go back and look at the film and all those things happened. The six, seven, eight, nine things that he described were pretty much the way the play unfolded.”1

The actual line-by-line narrative of that life story is called “self-talk,” and it’s something every person does almost constantly throughout every day. It’s the stream-of-consciousness inner dialogue you have about yourself and all the things happening in your life. Your confidence—and your ability to perform at the peak of your abilities—is directly connected to the quality, frequency, and makeup of that self-talk. If you examine Brady’s self-talk, one critical element is missing: negative self-appraisal. He isn’t berating himself; he is simply looking for ways to make himself better and having neutral or positive self-talk even when things go wrong. This allows him to mobilize in the face of adversity.

In simpler terms, improving your self-talk improves your self-confidence and self-esteem. And improved self-confidence and self-esteem are the cornerstones of improved mental performance. After all, nobody can be perfect all the time. As hitting legend Dave Winfield reminds me from time to time, “Slumps are to be thought of as ‘periods of adjustment.’ They are just ‘statistically acceptable variations.’” Now that is some hall-of-fame self-talk!

In this chapter you’re going to learn how elite athletes and business performers actually train their own self-talk—and create a better “life story”—in ways that boost confidence, optimism, and mental toughness.

Read the full excerpt here.