Tag: Self-Talk

You are feeling anxious? Lucky you.

I am going to get on my soapbox for a couple minutes here. I think everybody can thrive from anxiety. However, the feelings of anxiety often make us uncomfortable. The root of this anxiety is because neither you, nor I, really know how to use our anxiety. Because here is the thing, anxiety could just be one of the most powerful innate skills we as humans possess, and instead of running with it, we run from it. If you look up the definition of anxiety this is what you will find: “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.”

Then scroll down and take a peek at the synonyms: worry, concern, apprehension, apprehensiveness, uneasiness, unease, fearfulness, fear, disquiet, agitation, angst, misgiving, nervousness, nerves, tension, and tenseness.

Well I think, while I am up here on my soapbox, I would like to pick a fight. I would like to pick a fight with the idea that anxiety is a negative thing. I would argue that anxiety is indeed a positive thing. I’ll use with another word, excited. The definition of excited reads: stirred emotionally, agitated, stimulated to activity, aroused, to cause; awaken. Now I may be the only one, but I have experienced both these feelings and have come to realize that the feelings can overlap a great deal. Are you going on a first date? How do you feel–anxious or excited? Are you buckling your seat on a roller coaster? Is that feeling anxiousness or excitement? Competing in a game? I ask you the same question. Are these feelings only anxiety or only excitement–often times it seems hard to have one without the other.

An excessive amount of anxiety is not beneficial, I agree. When it creeps its way into places it doesn’t belong, anxiety can cause problems from a physiological standpoint. And that is not going to do anyone any good. But, what if we can channel small amounts of anxiety into positive performance. Even an abundance of anxiety can be transformed into a wealth of energy and excitement. We can change the way our body responds to anxiety if we first change the way we think about it. People do not walk up to a podium in front of 500 people without anxiety. The players in the NHL, NFL, MLB, and NBA have all had their share of this feeling. However, the athletes and people that view anxiety as a strength and a skill for performing are the ones that can reach optimal performance.

If you asked every person if they have experienced this feeling, I would be surprised to hear if even one person had not. It is a natural response developed with our “fight or flight” reflex many years ago. And we still find it prevalent today. The role of anxiety has clearly left a genetic imprint that is crucial to our evolution (and to your success). So before I step down from up here where the view is great, I will ask you to remember one thing. The next time you feel your anxiety kick in, heart racing, sweat going, palms sweaty, and body shaky don’t run from it. Run with it. I am willing to bet you will run much faster with it, then without it.


Want to hear more about this topic? Watch this TED Talk by Kelly McGonigal.

People often ask if your glass half full or half empty. This rhetorical question may actually be better referred to as a “loaded question.” When it comes to human behavior, our ability to make logical, sound reactions to the world around us is harder than what one may think. People have a tendency to not only focus on negative experiences, but to cling to them as well. Psychology has defined this tendency within its styles of negative thinking as negative filtering. The concept goes something like this: You have a tendency to focus on the negative. You may have a great performance with plenty of positive feedback from teammates, coaches and fans but one is mildly critical and you become all-consumed by this one reaction. You ignore all the positive feedback and focus primarily on the singular negative comment. If while reading this you could not relate to this concept of negative filtering, you have mastered a skill that very few have. However, more likely than not, this statement rung true to your experiences at some point or another. Looking at the initial question of our glasses being half full or half empty leads to an even better question: How do we defy our human tendencies toward the negative and consistently see our glasses as half full?

Allison Ledgerwood is a social psychologist that decided to tackle this question. She sought out to answer why it is that we let rejection and failure stick in our minds and let the positives pass quickly. She designed an experiment that intended to shed some light on the subject. The experiment consisted of two groups that were told about a new surgical procedure. Group 1 was initially told that the success rate of the procedure was 70% while Group 2 was told that the procedure had a 30% failure rate. Not surprisingly, Group 1 liked the procedure and Group 2 disliked it. It was then presented to Group 1 that they could think of the procedure as having a 30% failure rate. Conversely, Group 2 was told that they could view the procedure as having a 70% success rate. So what happened next? Group 1 changed their opinions and no longer liked the idea of the procedure, while Group 2 stuck to their initial opinion and still did not like the procedure. The study demonstrated that when a negative thought seeps into our brain, we have an extremely hard time seeing the positive. These results led researchers to believe that our minds naturally convert toward the negative implications of a situation…but just how easy is it to convert from negative to positive or vice versa?

In an extension of the initial study, participants were asked to solve a simple math problem. Again, two groups were formed but asked the same question two different ways:

Group 1: If 100 lives are saved, how many will be lost?

Group 2: If 100 lives are lost, how many will be saved?

The time it took for participants to solve the problem that went from gain to loss took around 7 seconds (Group 1). However, when calculating losses to gains, it took closer to 11 seconds (Group 2). This provides insight that our brains have an easier time processing loss/negatives but a much slower recovery when going from negatives to positives. For example, an athlete may be having the best game of their life and score a big goal and feel ecstatic about it. That same athlete could still be having the best game of their life but have one small mistake preceding their big goal. All of a sudden, the mentality has changed from, “Wow what a great goal–I am so happy!” to something more like, “It was the least I could have done after making a mistake.” While our brains may have a genetic disposition to find negatives and hold on to them, there are small steps we can take to find the positive out of situations as well. Perhaps that means letting our negative thoughts and judgments come and go. Maybe it means replacing negative self-talk with positive feedback. Next time, when you are confronted with a situation where it appears that your glass may be half full or half empty, remember that your perception is a choice. Your instinct may gear you toward the negative, but your mental strength can rebound you to see the positive.

To hear more suggestions on this topic, click here.

NPR radio recently broadcast a segment called “Why Saying is Believing – The Science of Self-Talk”.  If you think it sounds like a waste of your time, you might need to change your self-talk. Laura Starecheski investigates the messages we send ourselves and the implications these messages have on our daily lives. While it may seem like a simple feat, the ability to use positive self-talk on a consistent basis is easier said than done. However, this skill–when mastered–can have major benefits on our well-being and can lead us to feeling “sexier, more successful, have better relationships, and even help start a money making business and chase dreams [we] didn’t even know [we] had.” Starecheski investigates these claims by finding leading researchers in their fields and picking their brains on…well, how we pick on our brains. David Sarwer from the University of Pennsylvania specializes in research on eating disorders and immediately places a mirror in front of patients when he begins working with them. He encourages them to stray away from using harsh, critical vocabulary when describing themselves, and instead incorporate more neutral references that help them reframe their negative thoughts. While listening to the program, I began thinking, “Yes, I see the value in this… However, they are still just thoughts…and how harmful can thoughts truly be?” 

Shortly after, my question was answered.

A study conducted in the Netherlands analyzed anorexic subjects, and noticed that while women walked though doorways they turned their shoulders and squeezed sideways even though they had plenty of room.  This was an indicator that their internal representation of themselves was that they were much bigger than they were in reality.  Studies like this (i.e., those that show the tremendous effects self-talk can have on our physical world) are not uncommon. So how do we overcome these small thoughts that can become big problems? Ethan Cross of the University of Michigan suggests that the use of third person self-talk may be a trick to help “rewire” our brains.  Cross uses Lebron James as an example of using third person self-talk.  n an exit interview in 2010, Lebron James talked about leaving Cleveland for the Miami Heat:

“One thing I didn’t want to do was make an emotional decision. And I wanted to do what was best for Lebron James, and what I could do to make Lebron James happy.”

In this instance, he was able to distance himself from his emotions and look at a situation from a more neutral, logical standpoint. Cross furthered this idea with research of his own, confirming what he had already hypothesized. When people used third person self-talk and referred to themselves by name rather than “me” or “I”, subjects were significantly more rational, less emotional and were able to provide themselves with encouragement and advice.

Our self-talk shapes not only our internal world but our external world as well.  More often than you may think, the internal representations we create of ourselves are vastly different than reality. The skill of developing healthy, positive self-talk is not only beneficial, but also vital for our well-being and success. If you think otherwise, ironically you may just be the perfect candidate for strengthening your self-talk.