How to self-talk athlete style

What is it? 

Self-talk is something everyone does naturally. It is your inner voice that keeps an internal monologue of thoughts. These are the ultimate source of your emotions and mood. The conversations you have with yourself can be destructive or beneficial. They influence how you feel about yourself and how you respond to events in your life.

How does it work? 

Positive self-talk is a powerful tool for curbing negative emotions. People who can master positive self-talk are thought to be more:

  • Confident
  • Motivated
  • Productive
  • Happy

Source: ABC Horizon

But perhaps most importantly, more content.

People who positively self-talk may have mental skills that allow them to solve problems, think differently, and be more efficient at coping with hardships or challenges. This can reduce the harmful effects of stress and anxiety, leading to many positive health benefits such as:

  • Better cardiovascular health 
  • Improved immune function 
  • Higher dopamine levels 

When do athletes use it? 

Former pro-rider Shannon Malseed, tells us more. Shannon has competed and won at the highest level, becoming Australian national road champion in 2018. Since retirement she has become a human development coach, so is very well-placed to give more insight:

“It’s been a journey. When I was young it was actually fear-based. So, make sure you think positive things, otherwise something bad will happen. If you think bad things, bad things will happen. I had that belief for a long time and it still pokes out at some times. I learnt to say things like ‘I’m going to win this race’, or ‘I’m confident in myself’. But there was no agenda or structure. It was just if I caught myself thinking something bad, I would try and change it, bury it and suppress it rather than move through it.” 

“Moving on, I learnt about affirmations, the power of suggestion and the law of attraction on a deeper level. When I started intensely on self-talk was 2019 for the Olympics. 2020 Tokyo was a thing I wanted to go for. That actually didn’t happen, but the process taught me a lot.”

Source: Olympics

“I would tell myself 100 times a day that I was so proud to be an Olympian and represent my country. I would count on each finger one at a time, I’d do ten reps of ten in training.”

It was an intense practice when I was doing efforts. Having that mindset that was empowering and lifting me up, rather than reverting to what we normally think when under stress which is ‘shit this hurts, I can’t do this, I’m no good at this’. I really practiced to change those thoughts.”

“But I also did a lot of work on detachment from the result. The fact that I was affirming that I was going to be an Olympian was an important goal for me, but it wasn’t coming from a place of attachment to whether or not that was going to happen, I just knew that it was changing the way I showed up, and my physiology and my energy levels to get out on the bike to do another training session when I perhaps didn’t feel up to it.

“Rather than buying into the feeling that I wasn’t good enough, it was like ‘no I’m an Olympian’ and when things were tough it was like ‘what would my Olympic self do today? They’d get on the bike and do the training session to the best of my ability’.” 

I also had affirmations;

  • I am strong
  • I am calm 
  • I am powerful 
  • I am free

“I went deep into those and deconstructed what they meant for me so every time I said them I knew what they meant. I’d say them in training. These were all performance driven, and now I’m not racing anymore I have ones that are not.” 

“At the beginning you don’t believe what you’re saying to yourself. It feels very unnatural, but you fake it till you make it, and that might sound negative, but in this context, it is what affirmations are.”

“In the end I didn’t believe I was an Olympian because I wasn’t, but I think you can’t wait until someone gives you a pro contract until you show up as a professional athlete, and that’s what I took out of affirming I was an Olympian, it wasn’t believing I am an Olympian, as that would be a delusion, but I was showing up like I needed to, to fulfill that dream.” 

How can I use it? 

Positive self-talk takes practice and hard work, but it’s worth it as over time you can learn to shift your inner dialogue to be more encouraging and uplifting. Here’s a few tips on how;

  • Identify negative self-talk traps: certain scenarios may increase your self-doubt and lead to negative self-talk. Pinpointing when you experience the most negative self-talk can help you anticipate, prepare and nip it in the bud
  • Check in with your feelings: stop during events or bad days and evaluate your self-talk. Is it becoming negative? How can you turn it around?
  • Use milder wording, to switch to more neutral or positive talk: for example, replace ‘makes me angry’ with ‘irritates me’ 
  • Turn limiting thoughts to questions: instead of ‘I can’t do this’, try ‘how can I do this?’
  • Find affirmations that work for you: think about what is important to you and your goals, everyone’s will be different. Mine are;
    • I stand here in my power
    • I am enough 

If you are interested in delving into this topic more, check out Shannon’s website!