Today’s Topic: 5 Tips to Move Away from Negative Thinking
Welcome to Q & A with Coach Rebecca. I am live and excited to talk to you about negative thinking. We all do it. I received a question from a young gymnast in California. I’m going to give you the question and then I’ll dive into answering it.
If you are just meeting me for the first time, I am the founder and director of Complete Performance Coaching. We specialize in helping young athletes, specifically gymnasts, cheerleaders, figure skaters, divers, a lot of the “scary sports”. We help athletes in those sports realize their full potential by gaining courage and confidence so that things that scare other people aren’t going to scare you. We do this through one-on-one coaching over FaceTime or Skype. We also do it through our membership community, the PerformHappy community, which is all about building confidence and getting through mental blocks and fears so you can find your flow.
So here’s our question of the week. She asked,
Q: What can you do to feel more positive if telling yourself positive things doesn’t work?
Love it. Simple question, and it’s one that I actually grappled with personally. For the longest time, I hated affirmations. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the term affirmation. It’s those positive statements like, “I’m the best, I’m living my dreams!” It’s putting a list of statements up and reading it over and over again. That’s kind of the long and short of it. There are some people that this works really well for, which is why a lot of sports psychology experts like to assign this to people. Therapists like to recommend this, business coaches, lots of people like to recommend affirmations, so this could work for you.
Why Affirmations Don’t Work
Here’s why affirmations don’t work for a lot of people. When you are in a cycle of negativity, which I’m even going to say, you don’t have to be in a cycle of negativity, you just have to be a perfectionist or someone who has very high standards for yourself, it’s common that you’re not very kind to yourself. What you’re doing is you’re seeking out any problems and you’re trying to fix them and you’re really working through your skills with a fine-tooth comb. You’re demanding excellence from yourself, which doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for mistakes, and then when you make a mistake, you get negative.
You get mean to yourself. You go, “Oh stupid, I can’t believe I did that. Oh my gosh, why is this taking me so long? Why am I not getting through this assignment? Why are my teammates doing so much better than me at this? Why am I the worst one on my team? I can’t do it. Oh my gosh, am I ever going to get over this?” You kind of just get there naturally.
Wired for Negativity
This is part of the human brain. We are wired for negativity because it keeps us safe. If you know that you have some shortcomings, like you’re not good at a certain skill, then your brain is going to want you to be very aware of that so that you can stay safe. So it’s there for a reason, but it’s not necessarily very useful.
5 Tips for Getting Positive
If you are in this place where you’re, you’re trying to be positive but it’s just not working, I’m going to give you five tips for how to get positive.
Tip #1: Awareness
I would like for you to try to get more aware of your thinking. This is the first step in any sports psychology work. You have to know what’s going on. You have to know point A before you can get to point B. A lot of the time you’ll set these goals like, “I want to go to the Olympics,” but you don’t actually know where point A is because you’re not paying attention to what you’re actually doing every day in your mind, in your body, and whether or not that’s actually going to set you up for that goal.
What Works vs. What Doesn’t Work
What you have to find first is, “Who am I? What do I believe? What am I thinking currently and how’s that working?” As soon as I start working with a new client, I always dig into, “What is working for you so far? Okay, what’s not working? Let’s find evidence in the past of things that you’re already doing well, and let’s also find evidence from the past of things that have not served you.”
We’re going to do this on kind of a micro level with the thinking, and I want you to just set an intention. “I’m going to be more aware of my thoughts while I’m training,” and there are a few great ways to do this. I have a rubber band on my wrist right now because this is something that I work on. If you want to try, anytime you catch yourself being negative, take it off and put it on the other side. Or you can have a pocket full of paperclips and you’d put one in the other side.
Catching Negative Thoughts
Do this every time you catch a negative thought. You can be super creative. Every time you catch a negative thought, you can jump up and down or anything that you can think of to acknowledge, “Oh, that was a negative thought.” I’ve heard of some people snapping the rubber band on their wrist, but that’s not nice. That’s not the point of what we’re doing here. We’re not going to try to be mean to you because of the negative thinking, we just want to be aware of it. We’re just catching it and going from there.
So that’s the first part – you have to become aware, and this can take some time of paying attention before you’re actually going to be able to really catch those thoughts. Almost like you have a little fishing net and you’re like, “Whoop, caught one.” You’re not supposed to go, “Oh darn, I was negative.” You’re just going to say, “Oh, I caught one!” That’s the success in itself – the fact that you’re aware of what’s actually happening in your mind.
Tip #2: Ask Questions
The first thing you have to do is be aware. The second is to start asking questions. When you have those negative thoughts pop up, a lot of the time they’re in the form of, “Oh, I can’t,” or, “Oh my gosh, why? Why me?” They’re not, they’re not the nicest questions if they are questions or they’re just these like statements like, “Oh, you’re the worst. Oh, I’m terrible. I can’t believe I did that.”
Think about if you had a coach who was talking to you in the way that you talked to yourself, which some of you may have that. You may have a coach that’s very much like, “That was terrible. Do it again. Just go, what are you waiting for? Come on, come on, come on. Come on!” What if you were to take those statements and ask yourself questions instead? For example, if your thought that comes up is, “I can’t,” another way you could look at that is, “What can I do?” Or if your coach goes, “Go!” a much more useful thing to say might be, “Are you ready?” Same effect, but very different feeling, very different motivation level.
Shift Away from Fear
So think of it in terms of questions. Instead of going, “Oh, I’m so nervous,” you might have a little curiosity around it and go, “Oh, what is this feeling? I feel it in my throat. I feel it in my stomach. What does this feel like?” You know, just taking a second to have a curiosity that shifts the whole energy of your thinking from fear to curiosity.
If you’re in a situation that’s kind of scary or overwhelming, then you can go, “What can I do right now successfully? How can I get moving forward again? What do I need? Do I need a spot? Do I need to take a moment? What do I need right now?” Instead of just thinking, “I’m horrible. This is terrible. This is not going well. Oh my gosh, I want to get outta here,” you could think, “How much longer till the end of practice? 20 minutes. I can hang in there.” So again, think of it in terms of questions just to shift from fear to curiosity or from anger to curiosity.
Tip #3: Stick to the Facts
To recap, the first thing we’re doing is being aware. Then once you’re aware, see if you can start asking questions instead and then step three, stick to the facts. Instead of saying, “I’m the worst gymnast ever in history,” which is probably not a fact, or, “I’ll never get this skill,” which, we can’t know “never” unless you can see into the future, which if you can, great. I would love to know what’s going to happen, but most of us cannot see into the future.
Instead of going, “This is going to be awful. End of story,” or, “I can’t. End of story, done,” you think about the facts. “I’ve done it before. I trust my coach hand my coach wouldn’t have me do something that I’m not ready to do. I am trying my hardest, I’m tired.” You take a look at what’s actually true, and the facts I like the best are the facts that are not negative at all. These tend to be neutral thoughts, and I like to help people move from a negative zone into a neutral zone instead of trying to jump all the way over to positive zone.
Moving from Negative to Neutral
If you’re down in the dumps and you’re having a terrible, horrible, no good day, and then someone tells you to be positive, then all you’re going to do is argue with any positive thought that you come up with. But if you are in the fact zone and you’re only thinking in terms of what is true right now, like, “I know how to fall safely, I’ve done this before, I have time, I don’t need to get this today,” whatever the actual facts are that are not negative, that’s always a good place to go.
Tip #4: Focus on Progress
You can ask yourself questions and then you can also always rely on the facts. The fourth tip is to focus on progress. Progress, not perfection. For you high achievers who have extremely high standards for yourself, who do not accept imperfect as a success, you have to kind of retrain.
The best thing you can do for yourself is to get in the habit of paying attention to any incremental progress that you made. Now I’m talking about point A and point B. For some people, you might’ve had your confidence shaken by fear, a mental block, an injury, time off, or any number of things that can shake your confidence. What you want to do is start with point A, which is always right here, right now, where you are, instead of where you used to be, where you should be, where your teammates are, where you would have wanted to be – that’s point question mark, that’s not reality. So instead of, “Okay, where am I? Point A. Here I am, this is what my thoughts are. This is how I’m performing.” These are just the facts. This is what’s going on right now.
From here. You are tasked with making progress… from here, not from Lala Land questionmarkville of if everything had gone perfectly, which it didn’t and that stinks, but it just isn’t the reality.
Celebrate the Small Wins
So from where you are, what would constitute progress? I am talking a little progress. When you are super bummed out and struggling and things are not going well, that’s when any little hair of progress has to get counted. You have to get a tally mark for that. I tell people, “Go throw a party if you move even the slightest bit forward if you’re dealing with fear, be those little wins build into bigger wins which build into success, which builds into confidence!”
If you don’t give yourself credit for the little wins, it’s almost like you’re throwing them away and they’re not counting towards your confidence count. So train yourself to notice progress. If somebody says to you, “Hey, that was better,” don’t roll your eyes and go, “Yeah, but I’ll never get to the high beam at this rate,” you say, “Thanks! That was better,” and you try again and you just move your point A to where it is now and you keep it moving, little by little, not demanding perfection, but demanding excellence and demanding progress.
Tip #5: Self-Compassion
That is your job, and that’s a much kinder approach, which brings me to tip five, self-compassion. Think of someone you know who is compassionate. If you were having a hard time, what would they say? What would they do? Maybe they would come up to you and go, “Oh gosh, I’m so sorry. That’s such a bummer,” or they might say, “Ugh, that happened to me last week. That’s the worst.”
Someone who’s good at being compassionate can come to you and go, “Oh, that stinks,” and they can kind of feel what you’re feeling. They’re not trying to fix it for you. They’re not trying to tell you what to do. They’re not trying to tell you, “It’s not a big deal. Do it anyway.” They’re also not going just go, “It’s fine. Don’t worry about it,” they’re, they’re in there going, “Oh yuck, that stinks. I’m so sorry,” and that’s what you need when you’re in those moments, more than you need someone to be like, “Get up, come on, you’re fine. Go ahead and do it.” That’s not what you’re looking for. What you need in those sad moments where you’re really down is just for someone to go, “There there. You’ll get through this.”
Even that can be too much sometimes when you’re like, “Yeah, but I’m not through it,” instead it’s just like, “Ugh, this stinks.” So if you can start practicing self-compassion, you will be able to get through these low moments a lot more quickly and you’ll be able to get yourself into the questions and facts and even the positivity zone a lot faster.
If you’re struggling in practice, you’re not really making progress, you’re having one of those days, if you can catch the negative thought and it’s just not a good day, you can say, “This stinks. I am having a hard time,” that’s, that’s part of self-compassion is to actually acknowledge you’re having a hard time.
You’re Not Alone
It can also be really helpful to realize you’re not the only one in the whole world who is suffering right now because it can feel very isolating. It can feel like you are the only person who is struggling when everyone else is happy, everyone else is doing their skills, and everyone else is getting better. But if you really think of the big picture, there are a lot of people on this planet who have it not as easy as you, and there are also a lot of people on this planet who are doing the same thing as you. If you have a mental block on beam, I promise you there are 3000 other girls who have a mental block on beam, I talk to them every day.
There are so many people struggling, so if you can take it, just open it up and go, “This stinks, but I’m not the only person who is suffering,” and then you actually give yourself a little “there there”. What would you say to your younger sibling if they were struggling or a little cutie pie on your team? You’d say, “Hey, it’s okay. I’m so sorry. Don’t worry about it. You got this.” If you’re a figure skater and you’re just circling and circling, you’re bailing out and bailing out. Instead of being like, “Oh my gosh, I’m so terrible. I can’t believe this is happening,” you go, “All right, well, it happened. Okay. This is frustrating, but I’m not the only one going through this. It’s going to be okay. I’m going to get through this and I forgive myself for circling,” instead of getting mad at yourself, beating yourself up. You start being kind to yourself and then when you are kind to yourself, which starts to turn you into a person who believes in themselves.
Believe in Yourself
If you’re constantly beating yourself up, it’s just like if someone is abusing you, or someone is yelling at you and telling you that you’re no good, you are not going to believe in yourself over time. That will just dig the bottom out of your confidence. If you’re doing it to yourself, then you’re undermining all the work that you’re putting into your skills by being this horrible critic who’s essentially abusing yourself through not giving yourself positive feedback by being negative.
Of course with all of that going on beneath the surface, it’s not enough to just say, “I’m the best! I can do it,” because there are all these things inside of you that go, “Well, no, I’m not. I made a mistake last week and I wasn’t perfect and this isn’t okay.” So instead of trying to be overly positive, you just go to the facts. “Okay, that one wasn’t good, but that’s okay. It’s gotten a lot better over the last six months so that I can lean on. My coach isn’t worried about it. I have two more weeks before competition, so I’m going to take a breath, get a drink, and I’m going to take another try and it doesn’t have to be perfect. And if it’s not perfect, I’m going to forgive myself and I’m going to try again.”
You don’t have to be Pollyanna skipping around going, “I’m so great!” I would say everybody’s so great. You just don’t want to be the person who’s beating yourself up constantly, even though you have a smile on your face. So if you can be a little more compassionate, a little bit more aware, ask yourself more questions, kind questions. Even if you’re like, “Well, what’s the worst that can happen? Well, I would fall. Okay. I fell. Try again,” and then you would dry again. And if you fell again, you would try again. And you know how to fall safely.
You’re leaning on the facts, so get into reality, get into kindness, start where you are and make progress from there. If you have any questions about this or anything else, or if you want to submit the question for the week and, um, an upcoming live stream, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We currently are not taking new members for the PerformHappy community, the online training center, but we have a waitlist going. If you are interested in joining the online community, this amazing group of young athletes building confidence, get on our waiting list at Perform happy.com and I’ll see you again soon. Thanks for joining me.