We all have an inner dialogue babbling away throughout large portions of our waking hours. This self-talk impacts the way we think and feel, and eventually influences our behavior. I also subscribe to the notion that thoughts become our reality. Further, my own personal belief is that one’s own self-talk guides our thoughts. Meaning, to create a positive reality, you should pay attention to and work on self-talk.
Like a muscle, the tone of the self-talk grows louder or stronger over time. By tone, it is usually skewed toward either positive or negative. Positive self-talk can help reduce stress – negative self-talk can create stress. Kind self-talk can improve self-esteem – unkind can lower esteem. You get the pattern, but self-talk can also influence your motivation, productivity, and one’s own mental health. As parents, friends, and colleagues we can play a huge role in helping people around us develop better self-talk.
How to pay attention to and work on self-talk
Awareness – be aware of the tone of your self-talk thoughts
The first step to improving self-talk is awareness. Be aware of the tone of your self-talk, especially when and why it drifts toward the negative. By bringing awareness to undesirable self-talk one can then implement strategies to redirect or improve the stream of chatter before it gains momentum. There are many strategies to avoid falling into those discouraging rabbit holes of the mind!
Strategy – Using a Stop Word
One of the simplest strategies to reframe negative self-talk is ‘thought stopping’. Thought stopping is the association of a word or two to snap a repetitive or persistent line of thinking. The stop word should be meaningful to you, but it could also be as simple as ‘park it’. Park it for the next hour, or the rest of the evening, or game or period in a sport setting – whatever. Then, use as needed and as often as you like.
Ultimately, this strategy should take your attention away from the negative thought pattern building in your mind. Another strategy is to combine your stop word with a physical action – again, as simple as snapping your fingers.
How the Stop Word strategy is used by national-level athletes
Hockey fans may have seen Braden Holtby (former Washington Capitals now Vancouver Canuck goaltender + he is from Lloydminster!) after he allows a goal. For those who have not seen Holtby, he does the same thing after each against: lifts his mask, takes a sip and then sprays the water into the air and focuses on each drop as they fall. My guess is that he also uses a stop word. Ultimately this is a re-set, and refocus strategy to avoid dwelling on the goal – maybe he uses ‘park it’ – only Holtby knows!
The national rugby team in New Zealand, the All Blacks, use a similar strategy in what they call moving from red head to blue. When players recognize self-defeating and harmful thoughts (having a RED head) coming on – especially during high-stress situations – they have a cue word that they match with a physical cue. For example, one player stomps the ground with both feet and uses his word cue. Another stares off into the highest part of the stadium and stares at the lights so that he can gain a larger perspective in the moment.
The All Blacks call this moving from red head to blue and they practice these techniques. Again, self-talk and our impending thoughts are like muscles and we must work to correct them – it takes practice.
Like, say the world was in the midst of a pandemic and our angst and concern grows each day and, and…I am just gonna park those thoughts for now. What better time in human history than to slow down, be aware of and correct harmful thoughts – so talk kind to yourself!
Ryan Guenter BA, BMgt, MA
Mental Performance Consultant at Pivotal Physiotherapy