How To Talk To Yourself

How you talk to yourself is a critical piece to building confidence and to reaching bigger and better results.  Creating confidence is not only a collection of past successes but how you actually talk to yourself about those successes.

But what if you don’t have any successes to work off of? Well, how you talk to yourself is even more important and something you probably need to work on.

How you talk to yourself is a skill that has certain steps you can master so let’s get started on it.

Developing Awareness Of How You Talk To Yourself

I have a favorite saying that I use with all of my athletes and it goes like this, “If I talked to you like you talked to you, we probably wouldn’t be friends now would we?”

This usually gets a bit of a laugh, but with some thinking, the athlete (whether they are an athlete in sport or in life) thinks, “Yeah, you’re right!.  With some more time many of my athletes realize that when they talk to themselves, it’s usually pretty harsh.

So being aware of what you actually say to yourself and how your talk to yourself is a vital step in learning that your self-talk can reduce even the best results to opportunities for negative criticism.

Let’s say you’ve had a great result recently but you say, “Yeah, well, I should have won by more points.”  Or, “Yeah, but the last time I beat him by a second.”

These are signs of low self-esteem in my opinion.  Just like someone who can’t say “thank you” when someone issues them a compliment, beating yourself up after a good result is like saying, “I’m not worthy of that result.”  Like an overbearing parent, an athlete can be just as tough on themselves.

But many people aren’t even aware of this negative voice in their head.  Whether they are sucked into social media all day or are trying to bury their head in other activities, these can all distract from a negative voice inside their head.

Just being aware that there is a voice, and that it’s being a bit harsh, can sometimes be enough for an athlete to say, “Hey, no, that’s not true.  That was a great result!”

Does Negative Self-Talk Help You?

There is a whole host of people who will tell you that you’re nothing and you should beat yourself up to reach great heights.  

That might help, but…

Let’s say you beat yourself up all day every day.  You’re in a negative headspace and trying to overpower some demon inside.  Maybe your father told you you’d never amount to nuthin’ and that drives you.

If you actually make it (before burning out) you probably aren’t going to like who you’ve become.

You probably won’t find any pleasure in the win. Why?  Because that negative voice will always be there no matter how much success you have.

Talk To Yourself Like You’re Talking To Someone You Care About

In his book 12 Rules For Life, Jordan B. Peterson talks about treating yourself like someone you are in charge of helping.  Think about that for a moment.  Would you yell at someone who you were genuinely trying to help?  Probably not.

Think of when you were learning to walk. Did your parents say, “Ok, that’s it.  You’re just not getting this!”  Probably not.  Odds are they were pretty encouraging and you can walk today because of that encouragement. 

The underlying attitude that your parents took, and that you should take, is one of…optimisim.

Optimism Is The Base To Great Self Talk

There is a story of a young boy who is the son of a great baseball player.  One day, the baseball player is in the kitchen.  It’s early and he’s having a cup of coffee.  In the yard, he hears a rustling noise and goes to look outside.

To his surprise, his young son is in the backyard throwing a ball up in the air and trying to hit it.

The small boy throws the ball up in the air, grabs his bat, and takes a big swing.

He misses, and the Dad cringes in the kitchen.

Undeterred the boy picks up the ball and says, “I’m the greatest hitter of all time.”

Up goes the ball.  The boy takes a really big swing…

And misses again.

The Dad wants to run outside and help his young son but he hangs back in the kitchen, listening to what the boy is saying.

“I got this.  I’m the greatest hitter of ALL TIME!”

Up goes the ball.

A bigger swing.

And an even bigger miss. Three strikes and you’re out.

With that, the boy drops the bat. Walks into the house and says, “I’m the greatest PITCHER OF ALL TIME!”

While the boy may have given up on his hitting skills for the moment, what he said to himself made all the difference.  Instead of saying, “I stink!” he shifted gears and switched his perspective.

His optimism of who he would become was still intact, albeit shifted in a slightly different direction.

His optimistic attitude overwhelmed what could have been a rather demoralizing event.

In my work with athletes, I realize that negative self-talk can be pretty bad.  They will say things like, “You’ll never get this.  You always miss it.  You’ve never been any good at that.”

If we can just shift the tone to something more positive and optimistic we can make some pretty significant changes.

Write Your Self-Talk Down

A great exercise to do for yourself, or a teammate, is to actually write down the self-talk when you notice it.

By being more aware of your self-talk you will start to realize more and more of what you say to yourself and you might be very surprised by what you say!

The next time you hear your internal self-talk, write it down.  Grab a note on your phone or a pen and some paper.  Write it down.

And then…for even more fun…read it back to yourself as if someone else was talking to you.

The key to understanding your self-talk is that:

  1. It’s not…you.
  2. You don’t have to believe everything that you hear.

When you see your self-talk on paper, it creates a bit of distance.  Instead of it being in your head it’s put on paper and it’s going to look a little different. You may actually hear it differently. You may actually…gasp…disagree with it!

When you hear something like, “You always make that mistake.” You may catch yourself and think, “Well, actually, that’s not true at all.  I made it last week!”

And with that, a small crack in the foundation appears.  You start to realize that the self-talk isn’t the truth.  It’s not you speaking to you, it’s just a thought.  An idea.

Don’t Say Stupid Stuff!

In his book, It Takes What It Takes, Trevor Moawad talks about how just getting athletes to not say negative stuff can be the trick to turning things around.

The idea that “Hey, listen, we’re just not going to say anything negative.” can be an incredible shift for an athlete or a team, or an entire organization.

You don’t really need anything more complicated than that. Just don’t say anything negative. Stay positive. Stay optimistic.

One of my favorite techniques is to add a “yet” to the end of your negative self=talk.

Instead of saying, “You always miss that shot.”  Change it to, “You haven’t made that shot, yet.”

“You’re not good looking!” to “You’re not good looking, yet.”

By adding that tiny word to the end of a negative sentence you change it from a definition to a statement with potential.

You may have made a mistake now, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to make it again and again.  By emphasizing, “yet” you’ll shift your thinking from a negative to a positive.


In the end, when you become aware of what you say to yourself you’ll probably realize that how you talk to yourself is pretty harsh. Shift gears and think about changing those words from harsh criticism to something positive, like you would if you were taking care of someone you genuinely cared for.  Even if all you do is decide that you’re not going to say anything negative to yourself, you’ll be much better off.  Be kind to yourself.  Be optimistic about your potential.  And great things will happen for you.  And if you’d like to learn a bit more about this topic, I’ve got a great resource called “An Athlete’s Guide To Dealing With Automatic Negative Thoughts”.  Let me know what you found out about your self-talk.  Did you change how you talk to yourself?  I want to know!

Here Are Some More Articles You’ll Love

 Every day we coach our athletes on how to manage their self-talk.  If you know an athlete with big dreams who sabotages themselves with negative self-talk then our Mental Performance Programs can help. 

Also, did you know that when it’s time to compete it’s not time to think. If your athlete is “in their head” on Game Day, that’s a recipe for disaster.  Click here to learn more.

Keeping an athlete focused on what they want and not on what they don’t want is critical.  This article lays out why…and how.

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Olympian Jonathan Edwards

Olympian Jonathan Edwards

Founder - The Athlete Breakthrough Blueprint

Olympian Jonathan Edwards is the Creator of "The Athlete Breakthrough Blueprint": The world's only mental performance training program for aspiring athletes with big dreams.  Over nineteen years he has worked with athletes who have gone on to or competed in NCAA D1, D2, D3, MCLA D1 and D2, the Olympics, NHL, MLL, NLL, NFL, and others.  Feel free to link to this article from your blog and share it with an athlete, parent, or coach who would benefit from these concepts.

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