JanHawke Lays the Smack Down on Negative Self Talk

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by Insructor Jan “JanHawke” Rivers

What would you say to a child practicing a new sport in the backyard?
If they were learning to catch a ball, when they missed would you say, “That is awful. You have no skill. You are not a ball catcher.”?
Probably (hopefully) you would not say those things because

(A) you see them working hard;
(B) you recognize that it takes time and effort to get better;
(C) you know that in order to spend the time and effort necessary to improve, what they need is encouragement.

Yet, if we tune in to our own voice in our heads sometimes the self-talk is negative.

“I’m not a runner.”
“I’m so slow.”
“Everyone else is faster/stronger/better.”
“I hate <insert activity name here>.”
“I’m so out of shape.”

What do you think you would be saying to yourself in the following situations:

starting to exercise for the first time (or first time in a while)
getting up to exercise early in the morning
running with a group of people
running up a hill
running sprints
doing as many pushups as you can in one minute
not eating to support your goals this past weekend
treading water in the ocean for 14 hours

As far as the last one goes, I read an amazing article about a 57-year old police chief from California who spent 14 hours in the Sea of Cortez after the expedition fishing boat he was on capsized.

He said he kept himself going by positive self-talk, and was rescued by the Mexican navy.
The article said “Faced with a dire situation, Gibson peppered himself with positive self-talk so that he wouldn’t give in to despair or exhaustion. He even started to sound like a coach as he willed himself to shore. ‘All of a sudden the island was 50 yards away and these sports analogies popped into my head,’ recalls the 6-foot-7-inch former college basketball player. ‘I said, “Come on now, you’ve got to seal the deal. Keep your swagger, keep stroking, keep stroking.”‘”

His ability to think positively in that situation helped save his life.
True, we are more likely to be faced with any of the other scenarios than with the life or death ocean situation.
In all of the above scenarios, our self talk – be it positive or negative – certainly impacts the outcome of whatever we attempt.

The first thing to do to change this looping tape of disparagement is to be aware of it.
It may take 10, 50, 100, or more times of finding yourself saying “I’m slow.” before you change it to “I am out here working on my health.”
Being aware of the negative things you are saying to yourself will help you stop them and change them to something supportive.
Think of it as changing channels – click from NegativeTV to the Inner Cheerleader Channel.
And finally, when your thoughts are negative it may help to focus on something else besides yourself.
Get outside yourself -see how the person next to you is doing. Notice your surroundings – sights, smells, sounds.
Relax and think of what you would tell the kid in the backyard that’s doing what you’re doing.

When I first got back into exercising a year after I got married, I was at the heaviest I had ever been in my life.
I knew what I had to do (exercise regularly) but that first day at the gym I cringed when I looked in the mirror at my profile.
“Don’t look. Just keep working.” is what I told myself.
“At least I’m here, doing what I need to do.” That was as positive as I could get at the time.

These days when that negative tape starts playing in my head I switch channels and look for something positive, or at least a distraction, until I can get to a better mental place.
After all, it takes practice to get better.

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One Response to “JanHawke Lays the Smack Down on Negative Self Talk”

  1. Dirk November 6, 2013 at 11:27 am #

    As an instructor and business consultant/coach, I have had the pleasure to push both campers as well as executives to get past the negative self-talk. Trying new behaviors. Taking that chance and not worrying about “but I’m not good at that….”
    The great thing about camp is that it is dark – so you are allowed to make mistakes. I do! But dang is it always a great workout and I have yet to regret showing up.

    In fact, as an instructor I want you to give it all you have until you fail.


    and remember, always feel free to “RELEASE THE KRAKEN”

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