What if I told you that almost 80% of human thought is negative? The human mind on average has about 800-1400 words that cross the subconscious in one minute. Nobody talks to you more than you.
As athletes, one of the biggest mental skills in being successful at a high level is having great self-talk. But it is something that is not easy to master. In a world that is filled with noise, opinions, and so many variables we can’t control, the idea of self-talk may seem difficult.
Self-talk is something most people don’t train, or they think it’s weird to have some sort of mental practice. But as athletes, when we are performing the only thing we have in competition is what lies between our ears. If this self-talk is negative, we most certainly will perform poorly. If this self-talk is positive and reaffirming, it gives us our best chance to win.
As athletes, developing a mantra for self-talk helps give us affirmation and something to focus on when performing. In competition, our mind has many things that can distract it. It is being able to calm your mind, be aware of your thoughts, and have a routine that you believe in.
“I can’t guarantee you that positive thinking will always work, but I can guarantee you negative thinking will always work for the negative.” – Collin Henderson
It was a beautiful sunny Friday in Corvallis; UCLA was in town for a 3-game set. Our OSU team had just entered the bottom half of the 6th inning in a 0-0 ballgame. After picking up one run, I came up to the plate with 2-runners on and 2 outs. UCLA decided to do a pitching change.
I walked back to the on-deck circle where Coach Bailey read me the scouting report of the RHP coming into the game. I continued to focus on breathing and scanning my internal self-awareness. My mantra that I always used was “I’m a beast”. Baseball is a sport that has certain instances where the mind can wander. It is being able to develop and have mental routines that keep things simple and quiets the noise externally and internally. It’s a game of focus.
The stadium had a few thousand fans in it, and here I was a 5th year senior, on senior day, walking to the plate with 2-runners on and 2-outs. The first two pitches were fastballs away and I quickly found myself in a 2-0 count.
I stepped out, took a deep breath, found a focal point on my bat, and used my mantra. The count was 2-0 and the scouting report said he liked throwing off-speed in hitter-advantage counts. He threw me a slider and I was terribly late. As I stepped out, I thought, “There’s no way in hell he throws me anything but a fastball.”
Continuing my routine, I found my focal point and connected to my breath. I vividly remember how calm my mind was in a stadium packed with thousands. There was nothing else on my mind as I said to myself before stepping in, “I’m a beast, my family is here. Be on time to Fastball.”
It was one of those moments where there was no thought, it was just do. As athletes, this is the place we always want to be when performing. I was on time to that middle 3rd fastball and hardly remember running the bases, everything was silent, and I was completely in the zone – a state called FLOW.
The moral of the story is not about me hitting a homerun. Sure, it was a cool moment in my baseball career, but now it’s just a memory. Instead, it has provided me with an experience to pull from when mentoring young ballplayers.
The mental side of baseball is something I have always had a passion for, especially when I played. I was never the most talented player, but something I always dedicated my time to was learning about mental skills. Before practice and games, there was a core group of guys who were dedicated to the mental game and meditating before competition. This was more important than anything else we could have ever done in preparing to compete. Since becoming a college baseball coach, it has been a passion of mine to teach not only the game of baseball, but ways to develop mental toughness to dominant baseball and life.
This diagram shows us how everything in our mind first begins with a thought. That thought results in a positive or negative emotion, triggering the release of chemicals in our brain – dopamine for positive experiences and cortisol for negative thoughts. That change in our biochemistry ultimately influences our performance.
If we can pay attention to our thoughts and recognize when negative thoughts are entering, we can be proactive in instantly telling those thoughts to go away. This is a skill that needs to be trained, always, on the field and off the field. You then tell yourself how you want to perform. One of the best ways to train this mental skill is through workouts. The next time you are gassed, can’t go anything further, I want you to pay attention to what you are saying to yourself in that moment. Use your mantra and push harder. Train your mind to resist the path of least resistance, and push on.
A 5-minute mental exercise I partake in daily is called the HAW Method. The first minute you spend focusing on your breath, then go into “I have…”, “I am…”, and “I will…” statements.
Tell yourself what you have in life:
I Have: a great family. (Gratitude)
Tell yourself who you are:
I Am: a mentor and leader. (Affirmation)
Tell yourself what you will do:
I Will: compete and inspire those around me. (Committed)
At BASE by Pros, to help teach our clients we use the Native American parable, The Story of Two Wolves. This idea that we have two internal voices – a positive voice (Good Wolf) and negative voice (Bad Wolf) – is explained. At the conclusion of the story, the boy is asked, “Which wolf wins?” The answer? …the one that you feed.
Self-talk is something that needs to be trained, every day. Just as an athlete trains their body and skill for their sport, they also need to spend time on the mental side of the game. Our most powerful force as humans is how we see and talk to ourselves. Remember, 80% of human thought is negative and our internal voice is 10x more powerful than what anyone says.
Take some time to reflect during this time, develop mental routines, have a self-talk mantra, and do not let the thoughts you can’t control dominant your internal voice. Create who and how you want to be using your internal voice.
“The happiness of your life, is determined by the quality of your thoughts”
Dream Big, Serve Bigger!