Peak Performers in sports perceive the world in a way that is different from others. They perceive events and situations in ways that give them an advantage toward success. They have an expectation of success. They believe in themselves and their abilities.
From an ordinary standpoint, it is almost as though they are looking out at the world through a positive, success-oriented filter. Others who seek to tap their full potential want to adopt this perspective. You can learn to produce winning thoughts which will support you are doing your best in your sport. Learning to have Winning Thoughts is a process of imitating the mental habits and thought patterns of the top achievers in sports. The centerpiece of this process is adopting the self-talk habits of the champions.
Champions have a mental edge. They perceive situations in a way which is different from the usual perceptions. That is one reason why they are champions. They see advantages when others see problems. They experience difficult and pressure-packed circumstances as challenging rather than as fearful.
Create Winning Thoughts By Changing Self-Talk
Changing self-talk represents an important step toward overcoming performance stress. Self-talk helps to interpret the situations that are experienced. This means that self-talk can be used to re-interpret situations. When athletes learn to follow specific guidelines for internal dialogue, they experience pressure situations as less stressful. They are a roadblock away from their performance and they begin the process of learning to produce winning thoughts.
The methods for controlling internal dialogue form a set of guidelines. They describe how to alter your perceptions of a situation in an advantageous way, which includes what to avoid. We start with the guidelines about self-talk to avoid.
Guidelines About Self-Talk to Avoid
Rule One: Avoid Thinking That Leads To Worry Or Anxiety
Athletes who perform inconsistently, especially those who perform poorly in the face of risk and pressure, have self-talk which is centered on being afraid ( afraid of losing, afraid of letting others down) or on doubting their ability (“I can’t do it,” “I haven’t trained enough.”). Such statements must be avoided. Statements of doubt or fear erode confidence and generate stress.
Rule Two: Avoid Thinking About Past Failures
If you face an opponent who has defeated you three times consecutively, thinking about those losses creates a negative thought process, one likely to create high stress. If you have an event at a site where you experienced a particularly disappointing defeat, keep your mind away from replaying that part event. Reviewing past failures prior to a competition charges the current event with stress and lowers the chance of your performing at your best level.
Rule Three: Avoid Thinking That Ties Self-worth To Performance
Avoid statements which imply that your self-esteem will be damaged by poor performance. Internal dialogue statements that indicate this error are ones such as, “If I lose this point (or match or tournament), I’m not any good;” or “If I don’t win, I’ll feel worthless.” When an athlete has the attitude that winning is critical for maintaining self-esteem, the stakes are too high. Unnecessary stress is generated by this attitude.
Rule Four: Avoid Reviewing Negative Odds Of Your Winning
Avoiding negative internal dialogue statements includes reviewing odds that are negative, a pitfall that catches many athletes. A mountain climber does not focus on the dangerous odds he faces in climbing. His thinking emphasizes the rare opportunity and adventure climbing offers. Unlike mountain climbers, many athletes, at all levels of the competitive ladder, attend to the odds of their winning.
Athletes do not consider this a negative mental habit. They view their self-talk as an objective appraisal of their chances of success. If a tennis player, before a competition, considers the draw and focuses on the higher ranking of his first opponent, he may inadvertently undermine his confidence. His thinking creates an expectation for losing and higher stress. Therefore, directly before or during a competition, avoid thinking about opponents’ rankings, opponents’ tournament or competition experience, their sponsorship, and their reputations. Unless you know that you are going to come out with better odds for winning, avoid thoughts related to computing the odds between you and your opponent. In addition to the avoidance guidelines, other rules for self-talk inform you about how to shape and direct your thoughts positively.
Guidelines About Positive Self-Talk to Incorporate
Rule Five: Monitor Your Internal Dialogue
To change internal dialogue, monitor what you say to yourself prior to competitions. Internal dialogue follows patterns. Statements made in internal narrative become habitual. Unfortunately, routine statements frequently go unnoticed. The first step involves paying attention to inner dialogue, so you know what changes are needed.
Rule Six: Use Statements That Assert Your Ability To Regulate Your State
Frequently, when athletes become stressed, they feel a loss of control. Self-talk can change this occurrence. Tell yourself that you regulate your stress level. Statements such as, “I’m in control of how I feel;” “I control how psyched up I feel;” “I regulate these feelings of being charged up,” convey this idea.
Rule Seven: Regard Stress Symptoms In A Positive Way
Stress reactions are open to interpretation. You view stress positively when you regard stress as activation. Rather than saying to yourself, “I’m afraid,” or “I feel weak and shaky from nerves,” re-interpret the symptoms. Say to yourself, “I feel challenged;” “I feel powerful;” “I feel excited;” “I’m ready.” Such statements help you to shift the interpretation of stress to a feeling of being psyched up and challenged.
Rule Eight: Convert Negative Statements Into Positive Ones
The gymnast who says to herself, “Don’t fall off the beam,” can create problems with her negative instructions. Negative instructions produce instantaneous mental images that coincide with the directive. Such mental images increase the chance of making the error about which the athlete is warning herself. She should change the statement to, “Stay focused. Stay on the beam.”
As a general guideline for self-talk uses two types of statements: encouraging statements and instructional statements that focus on skills. Encouraging statements bolster confidence. “You can do it,” “You’re good,” “You’re a champ,” are examples of this type of inner dialogue. Self-talk that focuses attention on performance skills provides the other positive form of internal dialogue. A tennis player might say to herself, “Stay focused,” “Watch the ball,” “Get into position,” and “Quick preparation.”
Athletes cannot avoid stress. Pressure is part of the fabric of competitive sports. Manageable levels of stress add spice and excitement to the athletic life. Changing self-talk changes stress level. Changing self-talk helps to create winning thoughts. Consistent application of these guidelines creates new habits in an inner dialogue, habits that reduce unnecessary stress and anxiety and that give athletes control over performance anxiety.
Changing self-talk opens the way for athletes to demonstrate their talent. Mental skills enhance sports performance. They allow athletes to perform more consistently and to reveal more of their athletic potential.