Your inner voice - friend or foe
In part 2, I am going to tackle the biggest distractor of all – your inner voice. . ‘ Distraction’ isn’t a strong enough word as it belies the huge emotional punch that it has.
This inner voice can be more destructive than any external factor : it is the one that can hurt you the most.
Being told you are rubbish is one thing : but if you tell yourself you are then you have increased the impact ten fold. You can choose what to do with someone else’s words – but say them to yourself and you have made that choice – and it is crushing. You are entering dangerous waters.
So how often do you do this ? Probably more often than you think. But there is a way forward.
Because , positive self talk, the opposite of the negative inner voice is a great performance enhancing tool.
Be your best inner coach
The key is to look atyour internal voice as your best inner coach –use it how you would if you were coaching someone else. You wouldn’t be telling them they were hopeless would you !!! Your inner voice should be used to motivate not deflate. What would a good coach be saying at this point? Would it be ‘that was awful’ or ‘come on – next shot now’
The internal voices
They may chatter about the venue, the equipment, the referee and officials. They may have something to say about the spectators. They may be asking what was said.
Worst of all, they may tell you that you are going to lose and your opponents are much too good for you or start berating you for making a mistake or for not playing well. It is surprising how many mistakes come in pairs. One is the genuine mistake; the second comes from the player being distracted by their internal self-criticism. Do you do this ?
Why are internal voices so distracting?
Because the auditory sense is at a loose end while the other senses are completely taken up paying attention to the game. During a match you need to turn your attention outwards to what you need to see - so for a golfer it is the ball. For a snooker player it is the cue ball. For a footballer it can be wider vision to take in the positioning of team members.
Eg A golfer may see the rough he wants to avoid, but that is only distracting if he starts to obsess about it and that usually starts with an internal voice. The rough is important and not distracting in itself, only thoughts about it will be distracting.
Likewiseyou may pick out someone inthe audiencebut they only become distractions if you start thinking about them and that usually starts with an internal voice. Whenyou are completely focussed they will just be blurswith no more significance.
What can we do about this negative self-talk
To begin with, there is a difference between hearing a voice and listening to it. Listening means you are giving it your attention. Attention gives power. So, the obvious advice is ‘Don’t listen’, but that can be hard for most unless you substitute it with something else.
What will you listen to instead?
You need to listen to something else to drown out your inner voice. That way you might still hear the voice but it won’t have the same power. Oneway is to have a cue statementsreadily available. These will getyou back on track when you enter the danger zones eg whenyou have just missed a shot for example.
It can also help to listen to external sounds – not the conversations but just the general hum of the competition. Eg Tennis players can pay attention to the sound the ball makes as it bounces and hits their racquet. Snooker players the sound of the cue hitting the ball, the ball rolling into the pocket. Of great help is Cue Statements. Because they substitutes the negatives with positive directions.
Notice it is happening
Too often bad self talk habits become habitual and are part of the performance. Be aware of the negative self talk and look for an alternative way of responding .
Be aware of using pressure words. Competitions do not need more pressure and yet some competitors and coaches still pile it on. One of my client’s found mental game changed when he changed the “should be beating X “ to “I can beat X”. One simple word change with a huge emotional impact
The mental red light
'Red light spells danger' as
To help with the ‘awareness’ of damaging inner dialogues wave the mental red flag. Look for the danger areas – be ready for them – and wave the mental red flag. That is the time to have your cue statement in the wings.
When the red flag goes up, get your focus and positive self talk going
Thought for the road
The importance of having a healthy inner dialogue was brought home to me even more when I read of the psychological impact of online bullying on children. Those written words, become the assassinators to a child’s ego because
“when they are read those cruel words , it is your own voice which is saying them”.
That had a huge impact on me and demonstrates perfectly why we need to be constantly on the look out for the ‘destructive self talk’.
Be your best inner coach !