Very few people are immune to the sneaky problem of negative self talk. It’s easy to miss since it can start off small and inconsequential but eventually cascade into a full on mental road block. Let’s take a look at what self talk is, how it can become problematic, and how to avoid negative compounding.
First, a definition. Self talk, as the name suggests, is when you communicate with yourself inside your mind. It can manifest literally when you are talking out loud to yourself (I do that, don’t you?) but for the most part acts as an interior monologue as you go about your day. Self talk is critical for problem solving, decision making, and thought organization.
Interestingly, the way we allow that inner voice to manifest can have serious impacts throughout our day and can affect how we view martial arts training. As such, self talk can result in motivation and enthusiasm or grinding annoyance and hesitation.
Example: A Simple Matter of Wording
I’ve been teaching karate and kobudo for a number of years. Occasionally I forget what day it is and say to myself “ohh shoot, that’s right – I have to teach to today”. Seems harmless enough right? Actually it’s not; it is the subtle first stage of negative self talk. You see, I say “I HAVE to teach”, meaning that I do not have a choice in the matter. It is a disruption from my normal pattern. When I HAVE to teach it is a burden beyond my control. Whenever I catch myself doing this I immediately say to myself “no, I GET to teach today.” Believe it or not this diligence has made a world of difference at times.
The way we use language, even within ourselves, can have a serious impact on our outlook and motivation. We can choose to alter that conversation so as to avoid negative spiraling. Here’s another look at it:
Example: Perceived Obstacles
Winter is starting to hit many areas of the world and things are getting cold and icy. Human nature suggests that staying out of that weather is the smart thing to do for survival; therefore, the brain will start programming reasons to avoid the cold well before you realize what is happening. You might start to feel a tickle in your throat, an ache in your back, or worries about your car on the ice. Your brain will talk to you and nag you unless you choose to change the conversation.
Instead of a series of insurmountable hurdles you can choose to see challenges, knowing that if you overcome them you will be happier and more successful at the end of the day.
Here’s a tip: for hard days when you know your motivation is going to wain build in a reward mechanism post-class. My Thursdays used to contain 4-5 hours of training and on those days I would get a hoagie and tea afterwards. No training, no hoagie. Simple but effective.
You Guide the Conversation
If none of this seems relevant to you consider yourself lucky. A few fortunate people always see the dojo as a haven and retreat there without a moment’s hesitation. Most of us though have bouts of laziness, doubt, and distraction (especially as months of training turn into years which turn into decades). These moments of mental weakness can quickly become burdens unless you steer the conversation early enough. That being said, there’s a fine line between indulging in negative self talk and ignoring serious signs from your body. If you are downright sick or injured it can be detrimental to your health to force yourself into training. Longevity and health are as much a part of training as kicking and punching. Learn to notice when your body is serious and when it’s just whining.