The Power of Self-Talk in Rowing


What is self-talk or positive affirmation? Here is a question relating to the power of self-talk to you: “How many words do you speak to yourself during the day?” Answer: It is between 25.000 and 40.000. Next: “How many words in self talk do you speak to yourselves while being on the water?”: Answer: “I don’t know.”

A Running Dialog With Myself

It really seems that most athletes have a running dialog with themselves. If you actually stop and listen to these messages, you may wonder how you accomplish anything at all. How many times in a given day do you find yourself mentally rehearsing the worst possible outcome, or telling yourself you can’t do something, or it’s too hard? If you are in the middle of your 3rd 500 m piece and someone passes you, does that little voice in your head encourage you or shoot you down?

There is an enormous power in self talk. It can affect our performance in both ways – encourage or discourage us. Getting a grip and control on our self-talk is one of the hardest things many of us will ever attempt, whether we row, play sports or not. Developing positive self-talk is in fact at the heart of many mindfulness-based programs. For an athlete, negative internal messages and thoughts are among the biggest contributors to  race and pre-race jitters and competition performance anxiety.

It is what I say to myself during training, ourselves about our situation, our abilities, the events of our life. Simply put, they are the internal narrators of our life. Our ongoing conversation with ourselves. It can involve minor distractions or major decisions, or anything in between. Self-talk can be considered as the inner dialogue we have with ourselves. Van Raalte et al. define this as “an articulation of an internal position.”

Power of Self-Talk in Sports – Why It Is So Important

Self Talk strategy, credit: Pixabay

“In 2008, Chun Siong Soon, Marcel Brass, Hans-Jochen Heinze and John-Dylan Haynes teamed up at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences to prove beyond all doubt that our decisions occur seconds before we become aware of them”. Read more. Think about this for a moment. Somewhere inside our head a version of us is making decisions for us. In fact so far in advance, that an Olympic rower can cover more than 1-2 strokes before he even realizes that a decision has been made.

Researchers believe that positive self-talk can even aid an athlete’s performance and thus can serve an important role in training programs. A scientific study back in 2014 was the first to demonstrate that self-talk “significantly reduces RPE Rating of Perceived Exertion) and enhances endurance performance.

It seems that we make our decisions at least four seconds before we become conscious of having made them. If you ask someone why they did something, a specific part of the brain fires up to justify and explain why they did.

How Can Self-Talk Improve Your Performance

Hussain Bolt and Muhammed Ali are good examples of self-talkers and self-motivators. They self-proclaimed themselves as “greatest sportsmen of all time” and used the power of self-talk as tool to psych themselves up before a fight, and get into the competition. The magazine Sportreslience wrote that self-talking may impact:

Positive effects of self talk Credit Pixabay

Immune functions: Stress can elicit a physiological response in our bodies. It can also be exhaustive, weighing us down in so many ways. Having a positive outlook through self-talk has been linked to keeping individual stress levels at bay, which in turn can help your immune system to keep strong.

Life / training balance: Think positive. It’s no surprise that people with a positive outlook, have a higher quality of life. This has been documented in research from the Mayo Clinic.

Better wellbeing: The focus on mental health in recent years highlights the importance it plays in our day-to-day life. Mental Health organizations promote positive thinking as a way to reduce anxiety, encourage focus and to set goals.

Reduced pain: Controlling pain using self-talk is possible through relaxation and diverting attention away from the pain. There are other detailed principles in the practice according to health science groups.

Better cardiovascular health: It’s not just a myth; there’s science to show that adults with greater optimism have better cardiovascular health than those who are pessimistic. This also applies to better blood sugar and cholesterol levels, in the 2015 study.

Motivating: Using the power of self-talk and positive words can be a motivating tool. In sports, this is especially beneficial, when it demands so much from you physically as well as mentally. Positive self-talk can help you pick up and move forward again.

Positive Affirmation – Getting Started

2 voices in one athlete, credit: running out of sunhine

If you are not doing it already, you can start to exercise positive self-talk immediately.

  • notice and reflect on your thoughts
  • Become aware of what you’re thinking about. Simple. Just notice if you have positive self-talk or “not so positive” self-talk, but as you’re listening, do it without judging or changing anything. If the boats is unstable or the cox not steering well – oh well. Just notice your thoughts. This lets your “self” keep talking and “give itself away” not knowing it’s being inspected. Let it droan on.
  • avoid negative messages
  • So just how can we reduce these negative messages? In sports psychology, the goal is to replace negative self-talk with more positive messages.
  • Keep track of thoughts
  • Asses the way that positive thinking can makes you feel, and how this can impact body and mind. Some athletes may want to log these down. This can be a great way to remember them in more challenging times.
  • Write down your thoughts as you “hear” them. Keep a note in your cell phone or – even better create a virtual note pad in your mind and write it down there. A pattern of “auto” thoughts will become clear – thoughts that are so automatic that you don’t notice them anymore  These are the ones that keep your present programming healthy and strong.
  • Control and lead your thoughts
  • Once you have noticed a negative thought, reframe it. For example change from “This was a very bad and exhausting training day”.into “Of course is was a bad day. I will overcome this. Next time when weather conditions and lake water are better I will improve.” This is where you practice thought control. If the thought isn’t as positive as you would like it to be, reverse the thought and consciously start forming new neural pathways for new positive thoughts.
  • Notice the change
  • After you have consistently “side tracked” your thoughts for awhile, you’ll form new body chemistry to help your new way of thinking. In fact, you’ll become physically addicted to the new thought patterns. You’ll have new positive self talk and your new “automatic” program in your head will happen naturally. That’s why it’s called autosuggestion (or auto-suggestion) because it’s automatic! No matter what your learning style is, you’ll find more information on how to change your inner talk to positive self talk here. Research supports the theory that an athlete who continually practices positive self-talk will improve his or her sports performance. Succumbing to negative mental self-talk is a sure way to reduce performance and sports success.
  • 10 more strokes to go, credit: Pxhere

Build Your Own Strategy

  1. Define a training mantra: To get started with creating more positive self-talk, choose one of two mantras you can use during your training. This could be a simple affirmation, such as “They can’t pass”, or “I feel strong,” or the mantra “Go, Go, Go,” . Important: a positive phrase you can repeat over and over. Keep it short and punchy.
  2. Practice multiple scenarios: Once you have developed the habit of repeating this phrase during practice to the point where it is automatic, start expanding the dialogue so that you have familiar and comfortable statements for a variety of situations during your sport. For example, J. Talbot mentioned, if you are rowing and reach the finish, you might say, “I’m a good rower,” or “I’ve done this before and it’s doable.” If you loose a race or are finish past the competition, you can say to yourself, “Anything can happen, and I’m definitely not out of this. Don’t let up.”
  3. Avoid negative messages.
  4. Create a positive mental image or visualization: The phrases and words you choose should be those that you can immediately call up and create a visual picture of yourself doing exactly what you say. The image along with the words is a powerful combination that creates a positive message tied to a belief.
  5. Create your environment and mental advocates, listen to coaches: Sports psychologists and sports coaches may use a personalised grid to help form a strategy. It includes; the activity, the type of talk you apply and the objective of the activity. It is a visual tool to bring to life the impact of a positive mindset.
  6. Stay with friends: Overall, you are in control of your actions and your thoughts. The process of autosuggestion can be built upon by interacting with other individuals who believe in you or share similar outlooks on life. The saying is, “Stay close to people who feel like sunlight.” Studies show that, deliberately or non-deliberately, we are still influenced by the autosuggestions and the energy of others. Positive energy gives rise to positive influence. Inspiration is a powerful tool. Especially when you have the infinite resources to keep building your organization up.

What do you think of the power of self-talk? Do you have any suggestions? Please let us know.


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