Shameema YousufHave you ever stopped to notice the amount of chatter that goes on in your head? Nearly all of us will have an internal dialogue with ourselves. Self-talk plays a key role in reactions to situations, and these reactions affect actions in our future and how we feel as a result.

There are several sports psychological approaches to help athletes perform optimally, and one of the most common approaches is psychological skills training (PST). Self-talk is a PST technique to control the negative thoughts and dialogues we might inflict on ourselves, and to help us perform well.

The negative chatter

Internal dialogues we have with ourselves can be less than helpful and rather disparaging and judgemental during times of stress, disappointment and when we are under pressure. This negativity can be a real energy sapper and inevitably lead us to poor performances.

For runners, it may be that you doubt your ability to complete your run and begin to say things like “I’ll never get through this”, or you feel the agony and say “this isn’t worth the pain”.

Negative self-talk categories include worry (I’m going to fail again), disengagement (I can’t do this) and somatic fatigue (I am tired).

Often when negativity sets in, it becomes more difficult for the runner to enjoy the experience and complete the run. Perhaps your experience was so awful that you were then discouraged from running again for a long time.

Let self-talk enhance your performance

As already suggested self-talk can be positive and motivational, and using short phrases can help to:

  • Build confidence (“power legs” )
  • Motivate yourself by utilising metaphors (“quick like a cheetah”)
  • Enhance concentration (“focus on the next mile” or “keep the pace”)
  • Sustain effort (“hold it”), or control effort (“pick it up”)
  • Manage anxiety (“calm”) or psych up to go faster (“explode”)
  • Maintain self control (“I’ve got this”)
  • Break bad habits like heavy footing (“light feet”)

These short phrases can influence performance and behaviour in a positive way. Self-talk can also be used to stop negative thoughts, reframe thoughts and counter arguments. Thought stopping is simply instructing yourself to stop the negative thought. Reframing your thoughts will involve resetting the dialogue differently. For example: “My run today will be long and never ending,” changes to: “my run today will be easier if I break it down into one-mile intervals”. Countering your thoughts entails challenging yourself. For example, “I’m just not getting anywhere on this run” to “Really, how have I managed to cover 3 miles in 25 minutes?”

Some key ways to improve your running self-talk:

  • Build awareness skills – reflect and keep a self-talk log as soon as you as you finish a run as it is easier to remember those thoughts before too much time passes.
  • Keep phrases short and punchy.
  • Keep your internal dialogue positive.
  • Talk to yourself with kindness.
  • Believe in your positive words.
  • Practise and repeat phrases – it won’t fall into place all at once.

Our brains are muscles that need strengthening.

Shameema Yousuf is a Certified Consultant of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology, a Registered Counsellor with British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy, and a Graduate Member of British Psychological Society. Her website is empower2perform.com