Negative self talk

How to manage negative self talk with positive regard

Lady running - negative self talk and runningRecently I was having a conversation with a fellow coach, Nicky Cowling, about how she’s getting on with her running. Nicky started running to keep up with the fitness levels of her husband and teenage daughters and found that her negative self talk was perhaps the most challenging aspect of taking up the sport.

We had just been at a Liberating Leadership accreditation, a great programme run by Ali Stewart about leading and developing high performance.

Part of the course talks about having positive regard for your team.

Nicky used to have a negative inner voice in her head that would run her down. ‘You’re only 10% of the way there.  You’re slower than everyone else here. How are you going to cope in your next race? You’re going to injure yourself if you’re not careful’ etc.

And those were the ones that she was aware of! You can have negative self talk that is outside of conscious awareness and rattles on about how you’re not good enough.

How do you think these thoughts affect you?

Once Nicky understood that the imp on her shoulder was not helping her she decided that, rather than telling her inner voice to ‘go away’, responding with healthy debate and positive regard might have better results.

What is positive regard?

Positive regard means having respect for another person as an individual and a positive belief in them as a person.

Irrespective of the behavior they’re displaying you see the good in them and view them as a good, decent human being.

What Nicky now does is to distract herself from her negative inner voice with positive mantras. One that has been particularly effective is

“Just me, just here, just now”.

Just me – not comparing myself with others. How fast other people are going is not relevant. I’m doing my best. This is for me and meeting my goals. It’s not about speed, it is about doing it.

Just here – focusing on where I am. I’m on this bit of road, not thinking about the hill ahead.

Just now – staying in the moment. Focusing on the run I am in rather than a longer one in the future.

So what she is now doing is mindful running!

Nicky’s instinct at first was to shut her negative self talk up. She would get angry with it and tell it to go away.

Her focus now is to see if it has something meaningful to say and find out the positive intentions of the part that seeks to protect her.

How to deal with negative self talk

Work with your inner voice rather than fight it:

  1. The first step is being aware of your negative self talk and writing down what it says to you. You might be a bit shocked. We would never usually say to others what we say to ourselves!
  1. Once you have written them down you now need to reframe the phrases by looking for the positive intent. You may feel a bit weird about having a dialogue with your inner voice but it’s a useful exercise to discover what positive result it’s wanting for you.
  1. When you discover the positive intent say thank you and then ask if there is a more positive way of achieving this.
  1. Try on the suggested new thought or internal dialogue and see how it feels.
  1. If it feels good then make that your new positive self talk.

If you are more practical and find this a bit ‘woo woo’ then maybe you will prefer this approach:

It’s only a thought!

A thought has no validity. Reality is based upon what you are thinking at the time. Instead decide to have a better thought.

Pay attention to where else this negative thought is coming up. Often the same thought appears in relation to other aspects of your life as well.

Is it a useful thought? If it is, then keep on thinking it. If not, think of something more positive.

And remember that the life you have now is based on the thoughts you have had in the past, and the thoughts you have today affect your future.

So all you need to do is change your thoughts. It sounds so simple but it takes regular practice.

Once you get in the habit of catching your negative inner voice and challenging it, it’s rewarding and you’ll soon see results.

How do you deal with your negative self talk?

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