The most memorable time that I could recall teaching self-talk was with a high school volleyball team in California. It was a Saturday morning practice/mental training program in their gym and I was presenting on this topic; the young ladies seemed to be paying attention but really sometimes you can never tell. After the presentation the team scrimmaged and the point of the scrimmage was for them to become aware of the thoughts that actually run through their minds while they play.
After the scrimmage almost the entire team was yelling at me asking, “What did you do to me!? I’m being distracted by all these thoughts that are swirling in my head!” They sat down and gathered back in the area where we first were for the presentation. I was smiling and nodding my head while their burrowed brows were looking around to see if everyone else agreed with the assessment of each other. I broke the noise and said, “There is no time while you are playing when that is not happening. But for the first time you are becoming aware of what happens in your mind when you play. And be sure to note that what you say, whether known or unknown to yourself, affects how your body responds for you in the game. Now that you are aware you can do something about it.”
The collegiate athletes that I have met believe that when I speak about self-talk that I mean repeating to yourself ‘I CAN DO IT’…as if it, standing alone, is some mantra of true performance excellence. I never mean that! Self-talk is known to be the thoughts that you say to yourself at any given time. Mastery of it helps you to direct your attention towards what is needed at any given time in your game and increases the chances of your body being able to perform at its peak. How important is this skill?? Let’s look at the beginning portion of the story of Gideon in the Bible. You can find the entire story in Judges Chapters 6 -8. The portion I’m going to highlight is in Chapter 6.
The backdrop of the story finds the Children of Israel already settled in the Land of Canaan and with an enemy, the Midianites, that come seasonally and with force into their land to plunder their crops and their animals leaving nothing behind for the Jewish people’s well-being. Gideon found a way to save some of his grain from the Midianites but was really upset about what was happening to his people. What happens next is where we will see the power of self-talk for both the good and the bad.
An angel appeared to Gideon and proclaimed to him, “The Lord is with you, Mighty Warrior.” Good way to view yourself huh? Gideon’s response showed he was less than thrilled. He basically said that if God was with them why is this happening to them? Gideon recalled for the angel the stories of how God helped “His people” in the past but now it seems like God was abandoning them. He continued by asking, “where is the God who did all those great wonders?!”
The angel noticed a fire in Gideon’s response then said a most powerful statement! The angel said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. I’m sending you!” I believe that in the response that Gideon first gave showed a discontentment and passion that the angel picked up on and then told him to use that strength but channel it in a different direction. Instead of using tactics to hide his grain and complain, he should use his strength to fight.
Listen to Gideon’s second response to hearing that he had strength: “How can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” This kind of self talk controls what a person pays attention to which in turn controls what your body will do.
One of the reason Gideon never thought about going to defend his people even though he had the passion to do so is that he THOUGHT little of himself. Notice that he had the fire in his heart of a fighter but his thoughts held him back from being who he could have been. How do you fix such things? The angel had the right idea – give him a different story. The first thing the angel tried to give Gideon was a different view of himself; instead of ‘I am least’ take ‘I am a Mighty Warrior and God is with me’.
Your thoughts WILL hinder you from being able to perform at your peak. We understand this through neurobiology and the experience of faith. Guarding your heart from either belittling thoughts or thoughts that distract you from what you could be doing at any given moment is the point of mastering your self-talk.
What are you saying about yourself? And what is God saying about you?