Updated: Apr 7
Self-talk, the internal dialogue that reveals our deepest thoughts, beliefs, and ideas, is a double-edged sword. It can be either encouraging or distressing. For example, if you are an optimist, you may tend to speak more positively to yourself, generally leading to better mental well-being and more satisfaction in life. Alas, most of us lean towards more negative self-talk – a consequence of our built-in negativity bias. However, positive self-talk can be learned and cultivated. Let me give you an example.
Until a few years ago, I had always associated swimming with fun and leisure. This is probably due to the fact that I learned how to swim with one of my favorite people—my father. He would let me lean on his hand while I practiced kicking. I remember the joy that we both felt when he let me go and I realized I was swimming all by myself. My dad not only taught me how to swim but instilled in me that by practicing and having perseverance you acquire a skill. The same way he taught me how to ride a bike and drive a car. Invaluable memories and life lessons indeed.
As I got older, I began swimming with friends as a way to socialize. Although I recognized that swimming was also a way to keep active and fit, I continued to view it as a leisure activity. This view completely changed when—with encouragement of some friends—I joined a masters’ swimming group.
My first swim with the group gave me a completely different perspective on swimming. The task was to swim 2,000 meters. Most of the group completed this effort with little difficulty, whereas I was breathless. I started comparing my performance to the others, and negative thoughts coursed through my mind. ‘They are so fast…you are the last… You can’t finish this…You’re so tired…You should stop…’ But, I did not stop. Instead, I started an internal dialogue with these thoughts. “You try your best”, “Your accomplishment is your courage to swim with trained swimmers”, “Doesn’t matter how many meters you swim, keep going”. “ Soon you will rest and have a nice coffee”.
Now reflecting back when I was young and the times when I accomplished things that seemed hard. For example, in school studying a heavy subject in a short period of time. My sister would tell me``Do your best, as much as you can '' that would motivate me not to worry, instead focus on the positive and possible. In scout activities, we went camping for 15 days without family. We would have physical training early in the mornings, go hiking in the heat and cold weather. We all survived which felt great and made us feel courageous at times of challenging tasks. I would remember, too, that nobody was forcing me to swim. I also reminded myself that I was among friends. (It helped that my teammates would wait for me to catch up at the end of every 500 meters!) Thus, I–and they– kept the association between swimming and fun.
Gradually, I learned that positive self-talk in the second person was even more effective in helping to counter negative thoughts. I started responding to any negative arising as I swam with positive ones: ‘Keep going,’ I would say to myself, ‘You are not tired, you are only out of breath,’ and 'You finished 300 meters and you are over half way.’
The constant encouragement of supportive teammates kept me going Their encouraging attitudes and waiting for me at the end of every 500 meters always lifted my spirit. There was also what I considered the most rewarding part of training–the post-training coffee time with friends and fellow teammates.
The key learning here for me is, whatever sphere of life one is in, is to keep looking forward, as in swimming. When you are in a challenging moment, think about how to get through it, not out of it. And from time to time, make sure to pause and breathe, and connect with the people around you.
One of my clients, for instance, had a tendency to compare herself to her coworkers, who were taking use of all their possibilities despite holding positions beneath hers. On the other hand, she was criticizing herself, saying things like, "I'm not good enough," and "What if I get stressed out and can't do my job?" She became aware of her self-defeating thoughts and restrictive ideas as a result of our work together. She was then able to let go of the limiting idea and connect with the confidence she already possessed regarding what was good and feasible for her. Consciously, she began practicing positive self-talk and recognized that, while she may not be feeling confident at the moment, this hasn't always been the case.
Here are some key learnings I've found for resilience and perseverance:
🔑 Having a fulfilling purpose (healthy lifestyle, plus coffee time- building lifelong connections)
🔑 Time, effort & dedication
🔑 Positive self-talk
🔑 Being surrounded by supportive and positive people.
What are your strategies for keeping on track as you hone your skills so you can be in your flow?
If you want to know more about your self-talk and create better relationship with yourself and others, let's have a free consultancy session together:)