How Are You Speaking to Yourself?
When we are training in martial arts, commonly our movements and actions will be accompanied by a stream of thoughts, or a single thought. This is the internal dialogue we carry on with ourselves (some people will even verbalize the internal dialogue that’s going on within them). If this internal dialogue is positive in nature, it can help us learn and improve. However, if it’s negative in nature, it can sabotage our efforts and impede our performance.
Negative internal dialogue relates to critical, self-destructive, negative things a person says to themselves when they fail, make a mistake, or experience a setback. Comments such as “I’ll never get this technique.” -- “I’m clumsy and uncoordinated.” --“I’ll never be as fast or strong as…” -- “I’m not flexible enough.” Or they react to working on difficult techniques or actions with mental comments such as “That’s too hard…,” “No way…” or “I can’t do that…” etc. –
Some people, for whatever reason, seem to maintain an on-going dialogue of self-criticism. Their mind seems to supply them with a constant barrage of negative feedback. And because they listen to it they wonder why they have difficulty developing skills or performing as well as they want to.
The thing is this; every thought you have will have a physical effect on your body – every mental act reverberates in your physical being. The thoughts in your mind before training and the thoughts you have in your head while training will have a great influence on your performance (peak performers have learned to keep this stream of thought in the positive, self-motivating range and strive to maintain it there).
Science has shown that our thoughts can make us feel physical changes. Try this as an experiment. Move around in your fighting stance using footwork, and mentally keep telling yourself, “I’m slow and plodding…I am moving like my feet are stuck in wet concrete…My body is tight and tense.” See how it feels to you, how your internal dialogue affects your movements. Take a break and relax your mind, then move again but this time, keep telling yourself, “I’m moving lightly and smoothly… I’m gliding across the ground like I’m on a cushion of air… My body is relaxed and comfortable.” How did it feel each time you combined your movements with different type of internal dialogue?
Your thoughts are energy, and your words have power. So if you continuously bombard yourself with negativity, then you are repeatedly creating negative energy, which can have a very detrimental effect on your performance. How can we avoid or counter this?
The first step is to be aware of it; to notice when it happens. By being aware and attentive to the way you are thinking and speaking to yourself when you’re training, you can eradicate negative thought patterns and replace them with positive reinforcement.
Be watchful of your internal dialogue. As soon as you become aware of negative thoughts or make a negative comment about yourself, take care of it. If you need to, actively dispute the thought or comment by asking yourself such questions as, What is this? Is it true or not true? Is this helping me or hurting me? Is it leading me in a direction I want to go or taking me away from it?” Then reverse the mental dynamics by reframing it in a positive way. For example, replace “I’ll never get my footwork fast and smooth” with “I already know how to move; I just need to let it happen.”
Let’s be clear, I’m not talking about maintaining some sort of Pollyanna-like “Every day in every way I’m getting better and better” attitude, but rather being aware of the dialogue going on inside your head and knowing the difference between constructive and destructive chatter. When you turn the negative self-talk into positive self-talk you can experience a turnaround in your techniques, movements, etc. By switching it around, your perspective will shift and you will see opportunities and challenges rather than obstacles and problems.
Finally, keep in mind that it can take time and effort to replace negative internal dialogue with positive self-talk. Avoid falling into the trap of trying it once or twice, and if doesn’t seem to have an effect or you don’t see result, giving up and falling back into the old pattern of negative self-talk. If you’ve been functioning off of negative self-talk for a long time, when you start switching your mind may actually think you’re lying. So give yourself time.
The bottom line is that when it comes to you and your training, it’s better to be overly positive than to be overly negative. So listen carefully to how you talk to yourself during training, and strive to make your internal dialogue positive.