Self-talk is critical to performance anxiety
Have you ever watched a show like Master Chef? It’s one of my favourites because I love good food. However, it also provides interesting insights into each contestant’s psychology and self-talk, especially when they’re doing a pressure test or trying to win an advantage.
Here are some of the different things contestants say to themselves:
- ‘If I can do my best, I think I’ll do well.’
- ‘I generally do well in pressure tests, so hopefully I’ll go well today too.’
- ‘I just need to play to my strengths, stay focused and keep it simple.’
- ‘Oh no, I’ve fallen behind and I’m starting to get anxious.’
At this stage, you can observe that their thinking and decision-making becomes confused.
- ‘Oh, it’s so hard at this point of the competition because the others are such good cooks and are doing so well.’
They’re showing self-doubt, negative comparison and an external focus.
- ‘Oh, it’s really hard being away from my family and I’ve given up so much to be here.’
They’ve now gone into victim mentality with a sense of powerlessness and wanting support for the intense emotions that they’re feeling.
- ‘I can’t do it!’
At which point they normally burst into tears in defeat and George goes into coach mode and gives them a pep talk to help them get ‘back in the game’ and not give up.
And it’s obvious that some contestants have stronger self-belief and more positive self-talk and resilience than others. Why is that?
Where does our self-talk and emotional resilience come from?
The degree and extent of environmental challenges you experienced throughout childhood is relevant. Were you supported and encouraged growing up with kind and nurturing words? Were your emotional needs met?
Self-talk and emotional resilience largely come from your parents, family members, teachers and coaches – the people you relate to. Sometimes it’s the things they say directly to you and other times it’s the example they set.
Years of listening to family members either speaking positively about themselves and others or talking themselves down and being judgmental and critical, becomes programmed into your subconscious mind.
Both of my parents were self-critical and talked themselves down and I’ve often been told that I’m too hard on myself! It’s not surprising where that came from, but it’s not helpful if I want to live a calm, confident and connected life.
What affects your self-talk?
Your self-talk is interdependent with 3 key things:
- Your mindset
- Personal belief system
- Emotional intelligence
It really is interdependence because your mindset affects your self-talk and your self-talk affects your mindset. It is the same for your personal belief system and emotional intelligence too. And unless you’ve invested time and energy into your personal development, you’re unlikely to have awareness of them.
Think about a situation where you haven’t really wanted to try something new or go to a social gathering, etc.
Sometimes you’ve probably been able to make the conscious choice to have a positive mindset and expect that things will go well, you’ll have fun, meet nice people and feel glad that you did the activity. And because you started with that mindset, you’re more likely to be open, curious, friendly and say positive things to yourself if you have any anxious or uncomfortable moments.
However, let’s imagine that something irritates you or triggers you during the activity. Because you started with a positive mindset, you may be able to maintain positive self-talk and look at the situation with an open mind.
However, it is also easy for the negative self-talk to kick-in and say things like:
- I knew this was a bad idea. Why did I come?
- Why does this always happen to me?
- I wish I’d stayed at home and now I just want to get out of here.
- I’m so hopeless in social settings.
- That person is such a … (fill in with negatives and expletives!)
And once the negative self-talk has a voice, your mindset can change very quickly.
2. Personal belief system
By answering the following questions, you’ll have an appreciation of what beliefs you hold about yourself.
- Do you find it easy to look in the mirror and tell your reflection all of the things you like about yourself? Do you love yourself?
- Do you have a healthy self-image and belief in your abilities? Are you able to make things happen and bring your dreams to life?
- Do you find it easy to forgive yourself when you make mistakes or unintentionally hurt someone? Are you a ‘bad’ person if you make mistakes?
- Is it easy for you to be authentic and show people the real you? Are you acceptable and lovable exactly as you are?
- Do you feel worthy and deserving to receive love, gifts, support, encouragement, wealth, and opportunities? Is it ok for you to receive when others can’t?
It’s easy to see that how you answered those questions will directly affect the things you say to yourself. Your personal belief system directly affects your self-talk.
3. Emotional intelligence
There are five main components of emotional intelligence:
1. self-awareness, 2. self-regulation, 3. motivation, 4. empathy, and 5. social skills.
Think about each component for a moment and think about how your self-talk could impact each one.
- God, I’m clueless. I have no idea.
– That wasn’t immediately obvious to me. I’ll be more aware next time.
- Oh no, I can’t handle this! I want to run away and hide.
– This is intense! But you can handle it. You’ve handled other crappy situations.
- I’m so over this. What’s the point anyway. We’re stuck and it’s hopeless.
– Remember, if you stop now, it’ll never happen. Keep going. Keep trying. You’ll work it out.
- Why do you get so upset about this? It’s nothing. You’re just being weak.
– Oh man. I really feel for you. These emotions are uncomfortable and no one likes feeling like this.
- I’ll end up being awkward and shy. What am I going to talk about?
– I like meeting new people. It’s fun. Just open your heart and be yourself.
And once you’ve said those things to yourself, you can see how it would then impact your emotional intelligence. It’s like you’re setting yourself up for failure or success.
In all three cases, the interdependence or dance between your self-talk and mindset, personal belief system and emotional intelligence can lead to either an upward expansion or downward spiral.
Anxiety, panic and depression are signs of a downward spiral. We often think of them as being the problem, but it’s really the underlying root causes that we need to address.
Your self-talk is one of many subconscious programs
Think about it with this computer analogy. Your self-talk, mindset, belief system and emotional intelligence are all like programs running in the background of your operating system. They run on autopilot and are often out of our conscious awareness.
They will be impacting your thoughts, feelings, behaviours, decisions and actions, but unless you keep updating your operating system, the programs are going to become more and more out-of-date until they get to the point that they are no longer functional.
That’s when we notice that depression, anxiety, panic, stress etc are prevalent in our life and seem like they’re the issue. However, they’re not the real problem and they serve a purpose to help bring something deeper to our awareness.
The real problem is an out-of-date subconscious program that is no longer functional or serving you.
And remember, our brains do have plasticity, so we change those programs and ‘update our operating system.’