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Five facts about self-talk: #1 It’s not true, but it IS real.

If so, you are in good company. Athletes of all levels experience the same emotions: strength, confidence, motivation, or worry, doubt, and anxiety. The biggest difference between professional players and amateurs is understanding why those emotions occur personally, and how to deal with them.

Awareness and mental coping skills. These are the two pieces of the puzzle, the mental edge, that elite players use to be better than the rest. The two essential parts of a mentally tough athlete.

In this lesson we’ll start on one of the BIGGEST influencers of our mental state: self-talk.

It’s not what you say, …actually it is

Self-talk is both a way to become aware of your mental state, and to help cope with it in order to play at your peak performance level.

Mental toughness means being able to play at your peak, even when you feel doubt, anxiety, and low motivation. It means overcoming adversity through mental effort, and never letting it affect your match.

In these lessons we will cover

We’ll also go over a striking finding from the science of sport psychology, that negative self-talk is not bad for performance. Instead, we will discover how to identify unproductive self-talk. This dangerous self-talk can sound positive while being detrimental to how you perform.

I’ll give you concrete tools to take into match situations in order to deal with your mindset. Ensuring you can perform when necessary, no matter what kind of day you are having.

So without further ado, let’s get started.

Why does self-talk matter?

Here are two statements. What is the difference between the athletes who said them?

“I could kick your a$$ one-on-one.”

“Let’s do our best.”

The talk reveals a lot about the athlete’s mindset and their beliefs. And even more than that, talk also has a cyclical effect. It comes back in the ears and influences beliefs!

“I can do this.”

Said by Jason Lezak right before he swam the fastest split in history and won Phelps his impossible Gold medal.

Here’s a small graphic:
Personal Beliefs <—-> Self-talk

Let me go over 5 facts about self-talk.


1. Self-talk isn’t true, but it is real

We use self-talk to boost ourselves up and to beat ourselves down.

He who says he can and he who says he can’t are usually both right. ~Confucius

Your actual innate beliefs often differ from what we tell ourselves quietly in our head, and especially what we utter out of our mouths.
The big question is, how much do personal beliefs affect an elite athlete’s, or your, performance?

2. Self-talk affects performance

If we only go by observation, then we can see people who are equally skilled + confident do better than equally skilled + less confident players. However, sometimes we see confident people who do not practice enough. Or fall of their game. Or simply lose out in skill.

The science bears out this observation. Self-talk does in fact have an effect on performance. However it’s complicated. You’ll see more examples in points three and four.

If you have any of these problems, improving your self-talk can help:

In the next lesson we’ll go over how to improve your own self-talk. However, in the next points three and four you’ll see two simple examples of exactly how self-talk transfers from a mindset issue to an in-game issue.

3. Positive self-talk isn’t always good

Let’s start with practice time.

If you do some amazing play, and then tell yourself “I’m awesome,” statistics show that you will be less likely to improve.

Wait a minute, isn’t that good positive reinforcement? Turns out it’s actually bad positive reinforcement. The best message is “Yes! My effort paid off!”
Studies show that athletes who believe that effort yields results perform consistently better, improve faster, and get better after losses compared to athletes who believe that they win because of their talent.

And because self-talk affects belief and self-talk in a way reveals beliefs, the results show up in studies on self-talk.

So start praising your effort. Hopefully if you learn one thing from me in all of my courses it is the core truth of all elite performance: The only talent that exists is hard work.

4. Negative self-talk isn’t always bad

What people usually don’t realize is that negative self talk does bad self-talk. There’s two kinds of negative self-talk. The kind that helps you perform and the kind that hurts you.

“Dangit I screwed up. Don’t lose focus, $%^#!”

“Dangit I suck. Gotta stop sucking, #&$@.”

Yeah, they look similar, but the small differences are huge. Both of these are negative. But one of these is a value judgement, and the other one is a confession.

Value judgements usually don’t ever help you perform better. Often they hurt your performance because they define who you are and how good you are, or who your opponent is and how good they are. Reality should NOT be defined in your head. It’s defined out on the field of play, by the result of the contest.

The first one is an admission. Even though it is negative, it’s actually healthy. People who blame others for their losing often keep making the same mistakes over and over. Recognizing and admitting your errors in every team-fight goes a long way to improving team-fighting skills.

5. Self-talk can be improved

The final fact about self-talk is that there is a recipe for improvement. There’s a proven path that countless successful athletes have taken to change harmful self-talk into productive self-talk.


I want to know how you are doing with self-talk. Let me know if your self-talk is Productive or Destructive. Visit your portfolio on the Portfolio Forum and answer the following questions:

In my next lesson you’ll get two tools to “hear” your own self-talk. That’s the first step on the path to recognizing, stopping, and redirecting destructive self-talk.