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Pulling The Trigger On Negative Chatter

We all get it at some stage? That little voice in our mind that starts a conversation with something like "I'll never get it" or "I can't do this" or "I'm not good enough". It's that seed of doubt that suddenly sprouts in our mind, starts growing very quickly and starts to play havoc with our performance.

For a small minority they are able to quickly shut it out by overpowering it with their self belief and self confidence. These people tend to be very successful in whatever it is they are doing; they will have developed "triggers" to stop the negative chatter in it's tracks and they will have practiced this skill for a long time. They are world champions and high performers, and they treat the development of their belief and self confidence like they do any physical skill; they work hard at it and they recognise it's value to their overall performance.

We all have doubts, we all question our ability to achieve some things, some more than others, but what is reassuring is that WE ALL do it. Anyone who says they never ever doubt themselves is either extremely narcissistic or they never ever put themselves in a challenged environment. The difference is the power that the doubt or negative chatter has on us and our ability to perform as we would like. Another reassuring thing is that the power is in our hands, or our minds .... literally. There are many things we can't control and learning not to give them too much energy is a valuable skill, but handling the negative chatter we create in our own mind is ours and all ours and as such we do have the power to influence its impact.

Think of something that has really challenged you lately and then think of the chatter that occurred within your own head. This may be hard because you will have had plenty of thoughts about it but if you could get a sense for how positive or negative that chatter was it will give you an indication of how you feel about your ability to actually succeed with that challenge.

A very simple example that I have experienced lately has been getting back into a running routine after being ill for two weeks and not exercising at all. Knowing I need to ease back into the running and knowing that I was going to be a little sore from my sessions had me questioning what I should or shouldn't be doing. What I did find though was that a lot of the internal chatter was not about not being able to do it, or that some of the sessions would be hard, it was about how good it would feel to be able to work back up to a 20km run, and how good the feeling would be to know I was fit enough to do it. Guess what the positivity of that chatter allowed me to do? It allowed me to enjoy the early sessions, which were a struggle at times. It filled me with the belief and the confidence that I would be feeling good soon.

The reason why I was able to experience more positive than negative chatter comes from the knowledge that I have been through this process quite a few times before and that my running training age and base is quite extensive, so I already have a positive and effective experience bank to tap into. For someone, experiencing a new level of exposure to a challenge or someone experiencing a challenge for the first time, that experience bank is pretty sparse and so they may not have a great deal to draw from. This is where generic skills in blocking negative chatter and returning fire with positive chatter can be very helpful.

Take for example, many of us having to change our training routines to suit the lifestyle forced upon us by Covid-19. For some, this might be the first time they have actually had to be entirely self-reliant, training at a high level, and there may be some interesting chatter going on between their ears. As this is unprecedented, we don't have a great deal of experience to draw from so the unknown can lead to doubts and negative chatter. There could be a lack of discipline around routines, missing sessions, questioning the quality of the sessions, not having team mates to push us in session. All of these thoughts are like bullets piercing our self-esteem armour and creating doubt in our mind.

What we need is a trigger and then an action, and like any skill we need to train this. We need to be conscious firstly of the negative chatter so that we can recognise it straight away. This is where the trigger comes in. Have something, whether it's a spoken word or thought or even physical action, that interrupts the negative chatter and allows us time to take back control of our thoughts so that we can reframe our thinking based on positive chatter. At the start it will feel clunky, awkward and we will miss the opportunity until we become more attuned to the negative chatter and having to respond to it, but as we practice it, we will get better at interrupting the negative chatter such as "aaahhh this sucks, I can't do it" with our trigger and then reframing it with a growth mindset comment like "ok, this is a challenge and I'm struggling with this now but I am going to get it eventually".

If we think about our current situation and our thoughts go to "my routine sucks", we realise the thought we are having, we hit the trigger, which might be "hold the bus", and then we change our thinking to "what is my routine, what should I be doing now, and nothing is stopping me from doing it".

We still need to follow through with physical action but at least we have turned the tide of negative chatter and given ourselves a better mindset to achieve what we want to achieve.

For some this comes more easily than for others but for everyone it is still a skill that takes time and effort to develop but is certainly worth while because life is a hell of a lot better when we spend more time working towards success than having challenging negative conversations in our head.

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