Thursday, October 9, 2014

Befriending Your Self-Talk for Good

By Sherri Spelic - Leadership Coach

Once upon a time as a competitive runner and student of sport psychology, I invested a substantial amount of energy in trying to both understand and harness the power of my internal dialogue. Unfortunately, I had my work cut out for me as my natural tendency was to dwell on the negative aspects of my performance and occasionally sabotage my best efforts in the process. However, changing my habits proved to be a both challenging and rewarding experience. I no longer compete on the track, yet the lessons learned there have given me a much stronger sense of self, purpose and potential than I ever imagined possible.
Self-talk describes the internal dialogues we regularly hold with ourselves. It’s “the little voice” or “that whisper” in our ears that can convey a host of emotional reactions to the situations we face. What’s interesting about self-talk is that it can run fully of its own accord and it can also be consciously moderated through awareness and cognitive training. We can choose how we put our self-talk to use. As an athlete I had the tendency to disparage my performances both in training and before competing. Over time, I learned to moderate my internal dialogue more effectively and yes, my performances became more consistent, but more importantly, I became a happier and more satisfied competitor.
Many articles on self-talk advise you how to avoid or reduce negative examples. I want to take a different tack. In thinking about using self-talk productively, I want to suggest highlighting the positives and celebrating the aspects of your performance that are working well. There are a couple of reasons for this. For one, it is an easier task for the mind to add a new habit than to break an old one. Second, developing a habit of recognizing and acknowledging what is working well primes our whole internal system – mind, body, and soul – to be on the lookout for these instances. We create a positive feedback loop which the system seeks to repeat.
In considering your teaching or other area of performance, what are your self-talk habits? How does that whisper sound in your ear? Are you dealing with an ally or an enemy?  And under which circumstances?  Our self-talk tends to be situationally charged meaning that in areas where we feel confident, our self-talk is more likely to confirm that feeling. Whereas if we are feeling ill-equipped, depending on where we stand with that little voice, we may hear encouragement or messages which diminish our sense of control.
That said, here are a few tips for harnessing your self-talk to be and do your best:
  • Listen in. Spend some time each day simply tuning in to that inner frequency. Which messages are strongest? How are you responding?
  • Write down a list of as many of your personal and professional strengths as you can think of – leave no stone unturned. The purpose here is to kick start your mind into remembering and acknowledging what you are on the lookout for. Big stuff and little stuff, all strengths count and will make a difference in creating that positive feedback loop.
  • Catch yourself being good.  Ask yourself in the middle of the day and also at the end: where was I good today? What did I do especially well?
  • Create a script for yourself. Facing a difficult conversation or situation? Consider writing out what you want to say in the best case scenario. This is a way of priming your system for the best possible through conscious practice. In this way, you program your self-talk to produce the messages that will help in that situation.
  • Assist others in monitoring and brightening their self-talk. Although you can’t actively hear someone else’s self-talk, through careful observation, it’s possible to infer how someone’s self-talk is working for or against them. Particularly in the classroom, simply raising the question with a student about what messages they may be playing in their heads can be a great springboard for useful conversation about self-talk. Awareness of others can also enhance our capacity for inner reflection.
These are starting points for making friends with your self-talk. Please let us know what worked for you.
About the Author: Sherri Spelic is a leadership coach and educator based in Vienna, Austria. Two decades of teaching elementary physical education and coaching track have strengthened her conviction that mind-body connections form the foundation for all successful learning. Check out her blog: and follow her on Twitter: @edifiedlistener.

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