Today’s Topic: Overcoming Negative Thoughts
Hi, and welcome to this week’s episode of Q&A with Coach Rebecca. I am Rebecca Smith, a high performance coach, and my specialty is working with athletes age 8-18, on things such as:
- confidence building
- overcoming mental blocks
- finding flow
- unlocking peak performance,
- finding the best possible version of yourself under pressure
Meanwhile, having a good time and performing happy.
One way you can access me is through one on one coaching for young athletes over Skype and FaceTime. I also have a Complete Mental Toughness Training online community. That’s more do-it-yourself, and that’s at PerformHappy.com. We would love to have you.
I give priority to members of the PerformHappy community, but if you’re on here live and I have a second, I would be happy to answer your questions.
Today, I’m answering a question from an athlete, she’s a gymnast, who emailed me this week. Her question is great, because it’s a common problem. The negative words that people have said to her are embedded in her mind. You can see how it has really fed the mental block she’s dealing with.
Q: “My biggest problem as an athlete right now is my vault. It is my nemesis. It’s something that causes me anxiety almost every day. I’m trying to get it back for competition, and I worry about whether I’ll be able to go for it on a particular day. Some days it’s great and I don’t bock once, other days I bock on a few and flip a few. Then some days I can’t get myself to flip at all. I’m scared that I will be scared of it.
I had a coach years ago tell me that if I even attempted this vault, I would end up in a wheelchair. That has stuck in my mind. Certainly didn’t help my confidence, and I think about it every time I vault. Even though I have a coach now that believes in me, and says it’s the mental aspect rather than the physical that I struggle with most, my brain keeps dragging me back to what that former coach said, and how I might get hurt. Any suggestions for getting past this mental block?”
Of course I go right to those boys in junior high and what they used to say to me. Those words, the harsh words that people use can get stuck in your mind.
You know that whole, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Oh, that is so not true.
Words can be so hurtful. These tape play over, and over, and over in your mind. Every time that you step up to vault and you hear that “wheelchair” thought, you see that image of that crash… It destroys your confidence.
When people put devastating words in your mind, it’s almost impossible to get rid of them if you don’t know how. If you can’t let them go, it creates this negative spiral of low self-confidence, which leads to low performance. It becomes a feedback loop of negativity.
One of the main causes of a mental block is self-talk — the way that you talk to yourself. If you talk to yourself negatively, you can’t perform at your best. It affects your self-esteem, it affects your confidence, it creates overthinking and self-doubt.
“What do I do? What if this, what if that?”
There’s a crazy amount of negative energy that you spend battling those thoughts that is then not available for your body to do your training. It weakens your ability to feel like things are possible, and it’s one of the main causes of mental blocks and fear.
Benefits of positive self-talk
- Enhances motivation
- Changes what you believe to be true
- Changes the way that you feel
- Calms anxiety and nerves
- Allows you to cope with difficult situations
- Learn your skills and improve them more quickly
- Helps you prepare
- Helps you correct or change habits
- Increases your effort
- Changes the way you think
- Helps you heal faster
Words that you repeat in your head over and over and over can change the amount of effort that you put into what you’re trying.
Effort directly leads to performance.
The way you talk yourself through a difficult situation makes all the difference.
It also affects healing from injury. Did you know that the way you talk yourself through an injury, actually physically changes the way that you will heal, and the speed at which you will heal?
I’ve got a couple of exercises that I would love to give you guys today that can help you learn how to talk to yourself a little bit nicer.
Fear of fear
Now, before I go into that, this gymnast also mentioned this “fear of fear” concept. That’s another big part of mental blocks. I would say these are the two main pillars of a mental block:
- Fear of fear
- Negative self-talk (which leads to low self confidence)
If you’re worried about the fear of fear, I actually have a whole training that I did on that recently. You can watch the replay here. It also goes into some of the thinking, perfectionism and a lot of other elements of the mental block. Feel free to check out that training.
Exercises for improved thinking
- Grab a piece of paper, fold it down the middle hot dog style.
- On the left side you are going to write down every negative thought you’ve ever had in a sports situation. If you’re dealing with a mental block, this will be any thought you might have before you try the trouble skill. Write down any negative thoughts you have when you’re walking in to training, or when you’re competing. Just dump them all out on the left side of that paper. All the negatives, go, go, go, write down everything you can possibly think of. This is not something you’re going to have to read to anybody, you can destroy it when you’re done. Just get all that negative out.
- Once you’ve written down every single negative thought that could come up, you’re going to get ready for how to deal with it when the negatives come up. Go down your list, and write something neutral for each thought. On the opposite side of your paper, you’re going to look at each of those thoughts, and turn it into neutral. That way, if your negatives come up you know exactly what to say instead.
I don’t mean that if your negative thought is, “I’m going to fall on my head and die.” Then you go, “I’m going to be amazing.” What happens there is that your brain might not believe it. If you are so used to thinking, “I’m going to fall on my head and die,” then all of a sudden you start throwing out these positive affirmations, your brain is going to be like, “Who are you trying to kid?” Then you’ve got this argument going on in your head, and it doesn’t actually solve your self talk, it can actually it worse.
Instead, you want to shift out of negative to something neutral and factual. Something you can’t argue with.
Having a plan is the best way to handle most mental blocks, and mental situations. If you have a plan, then you automatically have coping skills, which makes things less scary. We’re coming up with a plan for dealing with those negative thoughts.
Find the middle-ground of your thoughts
Instead of going all the way to positive, find the middle. This is something that I also go over in that fear cycle training. We’re not trying to go positive, we’re really just searching for a fact that can kind of take the negativity out of it. Instead of saying, “I’m going to fall on my head and die,” which is obviously negative. You might say something like, “I’ve done this before.” If it’s a fact, then you can say that. “I have been safe doing this before.” If you trust your coach it could be, “I trust my coach, my coach will be there for me.” Or, “I can always ask for help.” Anything that’s a fact, that you can 100% say, “Yes, that’s the truth,” use that thought instead when you start to get negative.
You want to make sure that you don’t use negative words in your neutral thoughts. For example: “I’m not going to fall on my head,” because that won’t help. You’re still going to think about falling on your head. Get it into the neutral, no negative at all, and write down that list of all the new things to think.
Tear your paper in half, and crumple up those negatives
Now, I like to wad up the paper and smash those negative thoughts really, really good, and then physically let them go into the garbage. This is another one of my favorite things. Smash it, and then let it go. Then you’re left with these neutral thoughts.
You’re still going to have the negative thoughts come up because they’re so deeply ingrained in your mind. But now you’ve got this new list. Read it every single day. Be ready with your main neutral thought. If your main negative thought is, “My coach is not going to be there for me,” then I would say to myself perhaps, “I’ve done this before, I can do it again.” Something like that (in your own words).
You come up with your neutral thoughts, and you get ready to use those. You gotta know, “When I go to this event, I might get negative. I gotta be prepared.” Loop the neutral thoughts over, and over, and over to counteract those automatic negative thoughts. That alone can start getting you out of the mental block.
Now for this gymnast in particular, I have tons of things in the PerformHappy community that will help. I have a whole six-session series of trainings on Overcoming FEAR and mental blocks. A lot of it goes into building confidence, and overcoming fear by dealing with self talk, dealing with negative influences like coaches or teammates, dealing with bullies, filling up your heart so you can feel more confident.
For you I would definitely recommend join us in the PerformHappy community, and check out those FEAR trainings. They’ve got a lot of good foundational stuff, and then also members have my support through our online forums at all times. Well I mean, unless I’m asleep.
Please join us there. If you have any questions, reach out to me at Rebecca@PerformHappy.com. I will be back here next week answering questions.