How to Stop Being So Negative
Hi, everybody. I’m Coach Rebecca and I’m on here today answering a question that I got from one of the parents in the PerformHappy Parents Facebook group. PerformHappy is my membership community that is for mental training with athletes who really want the edge and also want to get through fear. We take questions frequently in that group, and one of the parents asked if I could talk about self-talk and confidence.
I wanted to first start by talking about perfectionism. I consider myself to be a recovering perfectionist, but I noticed that negative self-talk is so prominent in athletes and young athletes who really want to be perfect. They want to be exactly perfect and they will not accept more.
Myths of Perfectionism
These are what my thoughts were when I was the 13, 14-year-old perfectionist. “I have to be perfect, otherwise I’m not okay.” If I stopped trying to be perfect, then I thought I was letting myself off the hook, that I was being lazy and didn’t deserve success. “It needs to be excellent and it needs to be excellent as soon as possible, until I get there, I cannot let up.” I thought I couldn’t let up on my energy or my effort and I had to work to be perfect, and then I would be ok.
Now, to a coach, this is like, “Cool! I love a good perfectionist.” When I was coaching, I would say, “Yeah, girl, do another one!” When I was gymnast, I didn’t cheat on conditioning. I wanted to be strong, I wanted to be the best, and I wanted my coaches to see that I was the best. Also, I wanted them to compliment me and I wanted to feel good about it. They’d say, “She’s a hard worker. She really wants to be perfect. She’s working her butt off,” but then there are coaches and parents who might notice that that kid is much, much harder on themselves than the space cadet who says, “Wait, what was the assignment? I don’t remember. I think I’m finished. Did I do that right? I don’t know.”
You Are Your Biggest Critic
The kid who is the best one in class, the one teachers love because they always show up with all their work done, they even did extra work, and everything is awesome, that kid is often looking really good. They’re really smiley and happy to their friends, and they’re big supporters because they want to be liked, but they are so mean to themselves.
They’re so negative, they’re so hard on themselves, and nothing is ever good enough. They’re constantly in this state of, “Oh, I can’t believe myself. Why didn’t I do that right? Oh my gosh. Not again. Try harder. Try harder!” That negative self-talk comes up in athletes like this, the ones who care, who have high expectations about high attention to detail, more than any other type of athlete.
Negative Thoughts & Comparisons
Then here’s what happens. That athlete who’s very hard on themselves and very negative on themselves, they are putting in the work. They’re climbing a set of stairs, climbing toward their goals. They’re climbing those stairs – climbing and climbing and climbing, and then they look over and they’re like, “What the heck? Why is that kid sailing up their staircase and they don’t even look like they’re working hard.”
That was me. I would think, “I’m working so hard. Why am I not getting that skill? Why am I afraid? What’s wrong with me?” And then I’d see another athlete cruising up the escalator next to me, and I’d think, “Okay, I guess I’m just not that good.” Then I created all these worries and insecurities – I must just not be talented, I’m too tall, too old, not strong. I created all these messages that explained why I wasn’t moving fast enough.
Undermining Your Confidence
But here’s, here’s what I’ve come to understand about the way that you talk to yourself is that it’s not that I was on the stairs and she was on the escalator. It was almost like I was on the downward escalator. I was working, but I wasn’t going anywhere. I was working harder than that girl on the escalator who just flew on up, just got her skills – no problem. So then I asked myself, “What is wrong?”
Here’s what was happening – when you are working on a skill or you’re working to build confidence, you put in repetitions, you put in the work, you put in the effort, the energy and your confidence starts to rise. But then when you are negative, what you’re doing, without realizing, is you are undermining your confidence. You are taking away what has been scientifically proven to create that “I can do it” mindset. You’re talking to yourself in a way that says, “No you can’t.”
Channeling Your Effort
So here you are working your butt off to climb the escalator, and meanwhile, it’s moving down because your confidence and your self-talk are not supporting it. However, if you were to put that amount of effort that you put into your sport and you have the mental faculties to benefit you, that can allow you to be resilient, positive, calm, kind, and happy (not just to other people, but to yourself, too), that’s when you switch that escalator around and you start flying.
I’m going to give you all a tool, a skill, an exercise that can help you to at least stop the escalator moving from downward. If you’re a parent who’s used to watching your kid undermine their own confidence constantly by what they say to themselves, here is something that they can try. When this parent asked me this question about confidence and self-talk, I realized I’ve done hours of research and content on this, so how was I going to boil it down into just one little Facebook live or Podcast episode?
I’m going to go over it like this. All of my training in the PerformHappy community falls into three buckets. The first one is awareness, then there’s confidence, and then there’s trust. The same goes for any mental skill that you’re learning.
1. Awareness – First, if you don’t know how negative you are, you cannot change it. If you don’t know that what you’re doing isn’t working, if you don’t know that putting pressure on yourself isn’t working, that those time deadlines or those threats or punishments or even those bribes are not working, you can’t change it. You just think there’s something wrong with you. If any of that rings a bell, there’s nothing wrong with you. It’s just your strategy. So first you have to become aware.
2. Confidence – This is a phase where you’re building, you’re learning the skills, the techniques, and the mental strategies that will actually work to reverse your escalator or gets you on the right one.
3. Trust – Once you’ve learned all these skills, then you start to trust that it’s going to happen automatically because you’ve trained it. You’ve trained your mind, just like you train your body.
When it comes to self-talk, you have to be aware first, then we have to install the strategies, and then we have to let them work.
The Best Coach Exercise
I’m going to give you a little awareness exercise here and a little bit of that confidence part too. I need you to think about the best coach ever. You actually get some freedom here. You can not only think of a real human, but think of who might be the best coach ever. If you could design the ideal coach, male, female, you can dress them up however you like. It can be a giant whale. I don’t care who it is, but you decide who will be the best coach for you that will instill confidence in you?
Are they harsh? Strict? Are they tough? Do they motivate you? Are they your shoulder to cry on? How do they support you emotionally? Athletes, you can actually take a journal out and start writing this out. This is an exercise that I do in one of our weekly challenges in the PerformHappy membership site. Describe this coach, the perfect coach.
For some, this is not just the perfect coach – some athletes need a loving sweet mama bear. You know what’s right for you. Some of us need a mama bear who can also say, “Girl, get up on that beam. Now is the time. I believe in you let’s do it.” So if you need a push, you get a push. If you need nothing but kindness, you get that. So imagine what that coach is like.
What Would They Say?
Now I want you to think about how that would make you feel. Let’s say you’re stuck up on the balance beam thinking, “I don’t have it today.” What would that coach say to you that would allow you to drop your shoulders, get in the moment, and just execute? Those are the sorts of things you want to start thinking about. What would that coach say, what would you be able to hear them say to you that would allow you to go?
The Worst Coach
Now, switch gears. Let’s think about the worst coach. Maybe you’ve already had this coach, or maybe you have lots of good experience with a coach who is not great for you. Maybe they push too hard or maybe they don’t push enough. Perhaps they’re too silly or they have no sense of humor and that doesn’t work for you. Maybe they call you names. Maybe it’s a bully. I had a bully in seventh grade, Steven, whose words still circulate in my head.
I want you to write down some of the things that that coach would say and how that coach would behave. Maybe they’d say, “Ugh, not good. That was horrible. Why are you even on this team? You don’t deserve to be here.” I hate that. I have all those examples ready to rock because I hear them all the time, regurgitated from athletes. Nothing against you, positive coaches. I know you’re out there too.
So now you have your good coach who knows exactly what you need to get you going, and you have your not so good coach who will tear you down and make you feel like you’re defective or things are impossible. Next, we need to think about how you talk to yourself. Parents and coaches, you can do this one too, but athletes especially, how do you talk to yourself? If you’re up on that beam and you’re feeling stuck, what do you say to yourself? Do you say, “Come on, stupid brain! What’s wrong with you?” Or do you go, “Hey girl, I believe in you. You’ve got this. What’s going on? What do you need? Do you need a spot? Do you need to hop off and you take a drink. I got you.”
What’s Your Grade?
I want you to look at which coach you have in your head. Is it the nice coach, the good coach, or is it the mean coach? Now I want you to give yourself a letter grade. If you are the good coach already, give yourself an A+. Of course, you perfectionists will say, “Well, not perfectly exactly,” but you get what I mean. If you are really on the opposite end of the spectrum and the way that you talk to yourself is not helpful at all, notice that, and maybe you get closer to an F. Maybe you’re somewhere in the B or C range. Just notice.
Now think about if it was your friend who you adore and they’re up on that beam and they’re struggling and they’re sad. What would you say to them? The actual you, not the good coach you, but just you, what would you say? Would you say, “I know you’ve got this, don’t worry about it. Take a break.” Maybe you’d say similar things to what the ideal coach would say to you. When you look at all those situations are you saying, “I am nicer to my friends than I am to myself?” Most of us get to say yes to that one.
Be the Good Coach
I want you to start becoming aware, first of all, where do you fall? Maybe you’re doing amazing and you’re still positive and that’s great and you probably feel pretty good and you’re confident and maybe you’re the one flying up that escalator towards your goals. Or, maybe you’re getting a little dose of awareness. Decide right now that you’re going to be the good coach.
This isn’t about designing the perfect coach and then going and shopping for the right team. This is about you in whatever environment you’re in. If you have a totally negative team that’s cutthroat and you have a really, really strict coach, you can be the good coach. You have access to that at any moment where those words that you wrote down about what you want that coach to say to you, those are your words to say to yourself. The words you would say to a friend, those are your words to say to yourself, which is going to allow you, even though you’re not perfect, to get up and try again or to stop and move on and come back to it tomorrow if you’re not being productive.
See if in those sticky moments you can go, “What would the good coach say here?” Then say that to yourself. If it feels weird or wrong or bad, or like not helpful shift out of the bad coach into the good coach. Alright, so try that and then see if you can change your language a little bit.
Changing Your Tone
Another couple of tips here – a lot of the time when you’re being negative, you’re saying it sounds positive. Like, “Come on brain, you can do it,” or you go, “Hey brain, you having trouble?” It’s all about the tone. But then there are also the words, and if you’re saying, “I need to do this skill by next week,” or, “My coach says that I’m behind and I’m supposed to be doing this instead,” you can go, “I want to do this skill. I’m going to rise to the challenge.” Examine the language that you’re using. A log or some kind of a journal can be really, really useful for this.
Mental Toughness Log
We have a mental toughness log that we use in the PerformHappy community. You can create your own log just by writing down the following: What were the thoughts that you noticed you? Ex: I noticed that I was really hard on myself and these were the things I said. Then, write what you would rather say this instead for next time. Start to keep track and become aware. You can even put a hair tie on your wrist. I love this one. You just put a hair tie on your wrist, and every time they catch something negative, pull it off. Think of what the good coach would say. Instead, put it on your other risks.
Note – we’re not snapping. I don’t want you to snap in yourself because it’s not nice. Remember we’re being nice to ourselves. I don’t think the nice coach will come over and snap you with a rubber band would day.
Hair Tie Trick
So we’re just going to take it off gently. Think about what the good coach would say. Put it on the other side and then again, switch it. If you’re paying attention, you’d be switching that thing all day long. So start becoming aware, then you can do things like the good coach that will allow you to have a little something to refer to when you’re thinking, “Oh, I’m being so mean to myself. Good coach would say, ‘Don’t worry, go grab a drink. It’s okay. I believe in you.'” Or whatever your version of that is, which might be totally different from what I would do.
If you have questions or topic requests, feel free to reach out to me in the Sport Confidence Accelerator Facebook group. That’s a free group where we’re always posting different articles, tips, and taking your questions. If you want to join PerformHappy, we are not currently taking members, but I would love to have you on the waiting list. You can check it out performhappy.com. I will see you again soon. Thanks for joining me.