What are you telling yourself?

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If you quietly listen to your thoughts right now, what do you hear?

Honestly, take a few seconds just to listen .

Interesting isn't it, you have just mastered the art of actively listening to your "Self Talk". Wasn't it slightly refreshing, being able to tune everything out and just listen?

This is quite possibly one of the most overlooked life changing tools. In a sense, actively listening to your internal dialogue, is the same as meditation. Meditation does not require us to light the incense, get into cross legged position and put on some Dub-step chill music. The only requirement for meditation is that you are present with your thoughts.

I have been training for a triathlon in the past month. During one of my endurance runs the temperature was much warmer than what I had been used to, and the mileage was slightly farther. For some reason, I was really struggling. At about the halfway point I was ready to give up, my body was telling me to quit, my mind was yelling at me to stop.

I pushed through, then at about the last mile, those same voices were starting to invade again. My body was trying to get me to quit. I began to tell myself positive things, like "you can do this Stephen", "aint no thing", "Mind over matter, if you don't mind, then it doesn't matter". It began to help, but then I had to start yelling at myself , internally, as if I was Coach Bobby Knight. "Don't you freaking quit Stephen, you can do it", "This is where you make a choice, don't quit".

Needless to say, I never quit. I pushed through.

I love running and any sort of physical fitness activity, it is my escape, and the solitude and focus allows me to really listen to my thoughts.

However, I really disliked biking, it always seemed like a big ordeal for me to get on a bike. After forcing myself to do this through internal dialogue and being conscious of my thoughts, I found a recurring theme. I didn't like biking, because it wasn't something that I was naturally good at or particularly interested in. As I began to realize where my thoughts were originating from, I was able to deal with the root.

I was complaining and making excuses for my performance by telling myself and others that I just didn't like biking, when, in reality, it was because I wasn't willing to work at it and talk to myself positively. I was not giving myself positive feedback, instead I allowed negative thoughts and actions to pollute and corrode my mental capacities.

Does this sound like something that you can relate to? It makes me think about electrons and the Neils Bohr Atomic model. (I'm about to Unleash my inner nerd).

In Bohr's model, electrons travel in an orbit around the nucleus of an atom, they orbit in energy shells. The electrons can jump from one orbit to another only by emitting or absorbing energy in fixed amounts, the higher energy shells (i.e. n=3,4,etc..) the more energy is required to get there from a lower energy shell, and that is when the electrons absorb energy. See the diagram below.

The reason that I bring the examples of the electrons up is because, we as humans, are just like electrons, we choose to take the path of least resistance, and if we don't have to change to higher levels of energy, (learn something new, challenge ourselves, or exercise physically) we won't. We want to stay close to the nucleus (our comfort zone, our safe zone, or our hiding spot).

By listening to how we are communicating with ourselves, we can avoid always running to our comfort zone.

Here are a few things that you might say to yourself about exercise and nutrition:

  1. I worked really hard today, and I deserve a break (I drive a dodge stratus!!)
  2. I'm too busy, I don't have time for that (but I am going to finish Sleepless in Seattle tonight, nobody better screw with me!)
  3. I had a salad today, I don't need to exercise (Oh, you must be better than everyone else)
  4. I don't like working out in a gym, those people are fanatics (oh really, most people that go to a gym HAVE no idea what they are doing!!)
  5. I ate like crap for lunch today, oh well, I'll start over tomorrow, might as well eat like crap for dinner too. (Quit, now and you'll be a quitter the rest of your life)

We are so full of excuses aren't we? You know what's funny? When we talk like that to ourselves, that's what we become, that's what our character is. Here are a few counter examples to the above excuses that you can tell yourself when your INNER WIMP starts whining.

  1. I worked really hard today, and I deserve a break
    • How about: Man, today was a tough day, I need to do something that is going to put some life back in me. I'm going to put my headphones in, and go for a run (just tune out the noise for a little bit.)
  2. I'm too busy
    • How about: Why am I too busy? What is causing me to not be able to take 20 minutes to work out? (by the way, see my ">20 minute workout for people on the go)
  3. I had a salad today, I don't need to exercise
    • How about: I gave myself some great fuel today, I should get a good workout in too, so that I can make my body stronger. Exercise and good nutrition = results!
  4. I don't like working out in a gym
    • How about: I'm going to the gym and I'm just going to do my own thing (most people are doing their own thing, there may be a couple knuckleheads, but for the most part, they are all in the same boat as you)
  5. I ate like crap for lunch today, I guess I'll just keep eating like crap. I'll start over on Monday.
    • How about: One meal does not define me or what I can accomplish. I'm going to make a better choice and make my body stronger, not weaker.

The US Navy Seals learn to use this dialogue during thier training at BUD/S. They endure one of the most physically demanding events called HELL week, in which they are pushed to their limits for 5 days straight with a maximum 4 hours of sleep. They are yelled at, tortured in the surf, sent swimming into extremely cold water, and the ones who endure most likely the ones who will eventually become SEAL's.

The successful BUD/S candidates virtually all engaged in an internal dialogue that sounded like a pep talk from every positive person that they ever met. They were just simply better at pumping themselves up and encouraging themselves to push through challenges. Negative thinking just isn’t a part of their makeup. This “can do” attitude is a huge factor in who succeeds and who fails. Those that succeed have a positive “internal dialogue” that they listen to, believe, and satisfy. Positive self talk is incredibly powerful when combined with solid preparation and committed action. SEALs who succeed and SEALs who fail have practically the same physical skills. Their self talk however, is drastically different.

We have covered a lot of ground, and there is a lot to internalize. The picture is clear though, what we tell ourselves, how we talk to ourselves, and what we allow others to say about us, can significantly impact the way we face challenges. It can hinder our ablity to see ourselves succeed, and give us a negative image of ourselves.

So, What are you telling yourself?

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