It’s scientific fact that if you change how you view things, you change how you perform. GOAL: Say what you want to achieve, not what you want to avoid.
One of the most common complaints I hear in my office is: “I’m just not good at that stuff” or “It won’t work on me” or “Positive thinking is too hard & it’s just not believable” Okay I hear you. It is hard. Probably why most people just give up & choose to live in negativity or quit when it gets tough. BUT, thinking productively can be learned & you can rewire your brain, & trust me you’re not a unicorn, this will work on you too!
Just like learning a new skill, it takes practice & you have to be aware of what you’re reinforcing. Good news is, it’s not just going around repeating positive thoughts that you don’t believe. It’s all about reframing the negative thought to a neutral thought & repeating that until you believe it. You have the ABILITY to change the neurological pathways in your brain because we believe whatever we repeatedly say.
So what are you putting on repeat?
We tend to focus on what we lack & our weaknesses, instead of our strengths. Confidence & productive thinking can be learned! You don’t have to be super positive or fake – like I’m going to get a hit, you can reframe your thoughts to: connect, square up, lead with your hands. Basically, you want to give your brain instructions of what you want your body to do, not what we’re afraid might go wrong.
Your brain holds onto the last word you said, so we should avoid “don’t or can’t” thoughts – it’s focusing on the negative part that you’re trying not to do. You have to say what you want to happen!
Lots of examples: Avoid don’t fall & say be balanced or keep my head back. Avoid: This drill sucks, USE: this makes me more flexible. Avoid: I can’t relax, USE: I’m willing to allow my body to relax. Avoid: I always mess up here, USE: I have to work harder on this skill. Avoid: don’t hit to the left, USE: I have plenty of room to the right. Avoid: I’m tired, USE: This makes me stronger. Avoid: she is better than me, USE: if she can do it, I can do it. Avoid: I fell last time I tried this, USE: I learn something every time I attempt this skill. Avoid: I’m nervous, SAY: my adrenaline means I’m excited. Avoid: don’t false start, SAY: quick reaction off the blocks. Avoid: my coach just yells at me, SAY: he pays attention to me, he is trying to make me better- focus on what he says not how he says it. Avoid: what if I get hurt, SAY: specific instructions, like: squeeze legs, point toes. Avoid: what if I mess up, Say: what if I score. Avoid: don’t hit out of bounds SAY: focus on rotating my hips.
Why is this worth doing? Your brain has the ability to rewire itself & physically change based on what it’s exposed to. This is called Neuroplasticity. So, whatever you are repeating out loud, reinforcing, or focusing on determines what gets imprinted in the brain. Your image of yourself & your ability to perform is based on how you think. You perform in the future like you talk today. The cool part? No matter what you’ve said in the past, you can un-do if you repeat the ‘good’ enough. If you repeat them, your brain starts to believe them! Try not to be unrealistic & say: I’m going to get this – who knows you might not on this attempt – so you’d say: here is what I want to happen or here is what I want to focus on.
I want you to recognize how your thoughts can control you. Here is an exercise to help you get started. Get a physical object to be your reminder or trigger for when you need to shift your thoughts.
Here are some physical reminder options: put paperclips or pennies in a pocket & move them to the other pocket every time you have a negative thought, switch a barrette from one side to the other side in your hair, use a rubber band or hair tie on your wrist & move back & forth. I actually use silicone wristbands that say: ‘whatever it takes’ in my office, but get creative with what works for you. If you’re wanting to be more discrete: write a powerful phrase on the inside of your wrist (courage, trust talent, be proud, dig deep, smile) or you can use a sharpie or nail polish to color a dot on your thumbnail to remind you to think more productively when you see that color.
Every time you start to think a can’t thought, a negative thought, a don’t thought, have self-doubt, you compare yourself, have loss of confidence, or a distraction comes up – switch the object to other wrist or pocket. You will become aware of how often negative thinking is affecting your performance & how easily you are becoming distracted. GOAL: not to switch the item back & forth – the only way to keep it in the same place is if you REFRAME (change perspective) of the thought. If you say something that is beneficial to you, right after the crummy thought, to replace it, the item doesn’t have to move.
The ‘physical reminder you choose’ is to help you realize how much negative thinking & second guessing of your abilities is hurting your potential.
We can’t change what goes on around us, but we can control our response to it! Emotions happen, but it doesn’t mean you have to hold onto the feeling. You may still be nervous or frustrated, but you’re choosing to reframe – which means focusing on how you want to perform because it’s been proven over & over again, if you think it, you improve the probability that it will happen.
You can be brave & afraid at the same time!
If you keep repeating what you hate, what you messed up on, or what you feel like you can’t do – it becomes harder to the task & exhausts the brain, so you don’t have much left to go into your performance. We don’t want it to be harder to be successful.
Another big tip – Avoid these phrases: I need to, I should, or I have to…. The brain perceives this as a threat & a chore to do. It makes the task much longer to complete & much harder. When you use ‘need to, have to, should’ – your brain feels like it has no other option then it sends signals to make your muscles tense up, you get tight & you’re rigid in your movements, which totally changes your form, your accuracy, your speed, etc. YIKES, & you have control over what comes out of your mouth! Here is what you do instead – USE: I want to…. Or I get to. Avoid: I have to go to practice, USE: I want to go to practice to get faster. Avoid: I need to clean my room, USE: I want my room clean so that I can chill. Avoid: I have to do my homework, USE: I want my homework done so that I can watch Netflix. Avoid: I should be a starter or I should have this time by now, USE: I get this opportunity to compete, I’m not there YET OR, I’m on my own journey, trust the process.
First few days: you might switch hands 30-40 times in a day, it will be frustrating but that’s the point. You want to change your thinking so you don’t have to move that sucker back & forth.
Next few days: the number should decrease as you catch the thoughts & start to attempt to reframe the situation & change your words. You have to train yourself how to think more productively. Patience!!!! The goal is to try to lower the number of how often you have to change the wristband.
Then the next few days: You start to recognize the thoughts more often. You will still have the negative thought come up – it’s human nature to hear negative messages more loudly than positive & we tend to hold on to these types of comments & distractions, so when we are re-training our brains, it takes time. Goal is to have the negative thought cue the productive thought. Remember it doesn’t have to be positive, just neutral & more beneficial to you.
If you take better care of your thinking – your performance in school, sports, & interacting with others will be stronger. When you are focused on others & not taking care of YOU, you lose energy for your performance.
It’s annoying to move a bunch – hopefully, this allows you to pay attention to how your brain is interpreting messages & change your thinking.
When you are in competition or a presentation, you might want to look down at a phrase written on wrist as a reset tool instead of changing something to the other hand because obviously this takes time & based on equipment may not be possible. Try to use the wristband in school or work or at home if you can’t compete with it.
Use it at first as a tool to recognize how easily we get off track & become more in tune to what we are thinking.
Then use it as a way to reset after a mistake, or when you get nervous to remind yourself what you’re capable of.
Some tips to get started: When you ask yourself questions, you are more likely to respond to the task because ultimately the body hates commands, so you’re not telling yourself what to do, you’re asking yourself if you’re doing! You can ask yourself, “Am I doing whatever it takes to improve how I compete” “Did I tell my brain what I want to achieve?” “What did I learn from this?” “Why is this worth it?” “Am I giving my brain time to get used to change or did I give up quickly?”
Think about what deserves your attention to form a new neurological connection!
Take action now:
- think of yourself at your best & make a list of strengths that you have or why you compete– this is what we want to think of immediately when something goes wrong or we start to overthink, get frustrated, or think we can’t. If you wait to reframe the bad thought in the moment, you won’t be able to. We’re trying to create the pre planned thoughts so we are able to pull this version of ourselves into our mind when we need it most!
- List out 5 negative or over-analyzing thoughts you have:
- Write out a better thought for each one– be productive, reframe them! (Look at examples on this handout):
Are you willing to put in the time to be more confident, relaxed, & focused? It’s a game changer for your mental performance!