Building Better Habits: You're Talking to Yourself

Published January 9, 2017


Building Better Habits: You’re Talking to Yourself

-by Rachel Binette


“It’s just talking to yourself. People talk to themselves in a negative way and talk themselves out of doing things all the time. This is no different, it’s just that you’re doing the opposite. You’re pumping yourself up to do things and to be extraordinary, and that’s how big lifts happen and that’s how, in my mind, champions are made.”

-Scott Panchik, Mind Games


Do you talk yourself out of doing things that would be challenging or scary?

Do you have trouble seeing yourself as a successful athlete?

Do you make excuses or complain?


       Just about every second, we are thinking about something that has already happened or will happen in the future. We’re imagining different scenarios that could have played out or will play out, or we’re rewinding the tape and going over what was said and done, analyzing it repeatedly. The stories we tell ourselves about what has happened, is happening, or will happen is known as self-talk. And that is all they are: stories. They only exist in our imaginations, because the past is gone and the future is still undecided.


We can choose to tell ourselves positive stories or negative stories. From Mark Divine’s, Unbeatable Mind,


“The disciplined your calm, clear, steady ally, ready to lend a hand when you need it. Once we awaken and enhance our capacity to focus, then we can examine the quality of the content in our minds...And...we come to the stinging realization that some of the stories we’ve been buying into are very negative, or at best simply may not be the right stories for us. Now we begin to understand...the ease with which we can be influenced by thoughts rooted in fear, destructive feelings, and counter-productive external influences. Negativity derails performance, so it’s imperative that you are able to control your focus and shift away from these influences.”

       Our self-talk is influenced by our internal and external environment. A disciplined mind can withstand negative external influences, but if our internal beliefs about ourselves are counterproductive, we will be more easily driven off track.


Internal Influences:

       What are the things that you believe about yourself? List them out: the things that you like about yourself and the things that you wish you could change. Think about your character and how you interact with the world. What are your relationships with family, friends, strangers, and co-workers like? Are you really good at laughing at yourself? Are you easily angered or upset? Each of the traits you’ve thought of are based on a belief about where you fit into the world. Beliefs can be changed when they don’t serve us well, but you’ll need a growth mindset in order to achieve it.


       A very common story is the one we tell ourselves about our stress and how it affects our health. It’s considered common knowledge that stress negatively affects our health, but newer research is showing that it’s not the stress response itself (adrenaline) that is bad for our health, but whether we believe stress to be harmful that determines mortality.


This is an excerpt from psychologist Kelly McGonigal’s exploration of this new research:


Your heart might be pounding, you might be breathing faster, maybe breaking out into a sweat. And normally, we interpret these physical changes as anxiety or signs that we aren't coping very well with the pressure.


But what if you viewed them instead as signs that your body was energized, was preparing you to meet this challenge? Now that is exactly what participants were told in a study conducted at Harvard University. Before they went through the social stress test, they were taught to rethink their stress response as helpful. That pounding heart is preparing you for action. If you're breathing faster, it's no problem. It's getting more oxygen to your brain. And participants who learned to view the stress response as helpful for their performance, well, they were less stressed out, less anxious, more confident, but the most fascinating finding to me was how their physical stress response changed.


Now, in a typical stress response, your heart rate goes up, and your blood vessels constrict...And this is one of the reasons that chronic stress is sometimes associated with cardiovascular disease. It's not really healthy to be in this state all the time. But in the study, when participants viewed their stress response as helpful, their blood vessels stayed relaxed...Their heart was still pounding, but this is a much healthier cardiovascular profile. It actually looks a lot like what happens in moments of joy and courage.

External Influences:

       It’s important to be aware of what influences in our lives make us feel positive and supported and what influences weigh us down. Realizing that a relationship or a job is not a system of support, but rather a drain, can be eye-opening. We may not be able to leave a job the second we realize it’s not what we need to thrive, but, seeking, creating, and implementing strategies for staying positive is important for our sanity and for staying open to new possibilities. A relationship that drains our positivity is worth examining, whether it’s a friend, family member, co-worker, or significant other. Having strategies for re-directing or eliminating negativity can allow us to build resilience and open more space in our lives for positive relationships.

       If you think you might be the complainer, it’s Ok! We all go through tough times and need to vent about them. The question we must ask ourselves is, “What am I going to do about my problem?”


Principles for Success:

We only focus on what we have direct control over.

Positivity beats negativity every time.


       It is much more comfortable to center our attention on outside influences rather than on ourselves, but, we only have control over our own actions and our thoughts. At all times, we must ask, “What is my job right now? Should I be doing anything differently? Does feeling or behaving this way make my situation better or worse?”


Better Habit Challenges

  1. Practice visualization. Visualizing our performance in a positive way has been shown to improve it drastically when combined with physical practice. Picture yourself from outside of your body and inside of it, and include sounds and other sensations in your visualization to make it even more effective. This works for training, competition, and challenges outside of the gym, like public speaking.
    To be more specific, imagine what a champion visualizes: how they picture themselves, how they approach problems, what they do to overcome obstacles. Then train yourself to think that way!
  2. Train yourself to love challenge. The movements and workouts that you hate make you exponentially better than the ones that are in your wheelhouse. I will sometimes mentally correct myself like so: “No, you love _____, because it’s what you need the most.”
  3. Refuse to complain, even mentally. If you don’t like something, change it. If it’s not worth making a change over, it’s not worth complaining about.
  4. Find a mantra, a quick phrase that re-focuses and motivates you when you become distracted by negativity. Here are a few:


#headdowneyesforward #earnednotgiven  

-Mattie Rogers, USA Olympic Weightlifter


“Burn the questions.”

-Julien Pineau, StrongFit Founder and Coach



-Josh Bridges, CrossFit Games Athlete


“Never give up.”

-MeiLin McDonald



-Julian Edelman, NE Patriots Wide Receiver

       It can be liberating to find how much control we have over our internal environment and how much of a difference it makes to our well-being. Staying positive and action-oriented is how we achieve our goals. These habits take time and effort to develop, and we will all slip sometimes. But they are habits that will change your life for the better, by putting your biggest influence in your corner: you.

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