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Your Words Affect Your Performance. Choose Them Wisely!

Mindset Made Simple Tip #175 - Listen or watch HERE (and hit subscribe, please!)

Oops, I did it again!

My high school coach once told me I was the dumbest smart person she knew. She may have been on to something!

If you read Tip #173, you know I was using mental modeling to help me recover from my back injury. It was going well. Almost two weeks in, I was back to normal on the Stairmaster, bike and rowing machine. No running or lifting, yet. But I was making significant progress.

Then...I pushed it. And I ended up worse than when this whole thing started!

Looks like Coach King was right!

Was it the pain, the frustration or the looking into the future and lamenting the fact that I could not work out that turned on Negative Nelly in my head? Whatever the catalyst, she was out in full force.

“My back was killing me”, I said. It wasn't.

I was talking about what I couldn't get up off the floor and if I couldn’t do that, I certainly wasn’t working out any time soon!

I was saying things like "This is ridiculous". Not productive. And, of course, I was catastrophizing over what I couldn't do.

I know better. I wasn't helping myself! You’ll see why as you read on!

I have been focusing a lot lately about the words we use, the stories we tell and identifying how winners talk and how our words and stories affect our behavior. And yet, my talk has been trash!

Until it wasn't.

While working at turning over in bed, my words stuck out as if someone yelled in my face. "That wasn't bad", I said. That means I was getting better but the words I used were not!

I made an immediate shift to "That was good!"

What a difference. "That wasn't bad" meant I was improving, yet it had nothing to do with “bad”, so why use those words?

Think about how often we do this! We are full of non-productive talk and thoughts and act as if they do not affect our performance or well-being.


Dr. Caroline Leaf, a cognitive neuroscientist, puts it succinctly: "As you think, you change your brain." When we engage in negative self-talk, we activate the amygdala, the brain's fear center, which signals the release of stress hormones. This heightened state of arousal can lead to decreased focus, disrupted motor skills, and even compromised immune function, making the body more susceptible to injuries and slower recovery.

See, I told you it matters!

In his podcast episode, “A Science Supported Journaling Protocol to Improve Mental and Physical Health”, Dr. Andrew Huberman cites research from Vine et. Al (2020). Their research showed how the use of and variety of emotional words correspond with emotional experiences and found a direct correlation between negative talk and overall health.

They found that those who used a wider variety of words to describe positive emotions were more likely to report greater well-being. Conversely, a larger vocabulary of words associated with negative emotions correlated to lower well-being.

Our brains are incredibly sensitive to the language we use with ourselves. Remember, our negative self-talk floods our system with cortisol – the infamous stress hormone. Thus, the way we think and talk can impair our physical performance and delay the recovery process.

Simply put, when we think, we change our brain and our body! Time to start thinking and talking wisely!

So, how do we combat our nature, hush our inner critic and change the words we use?

It’s time to pay close attention and take note of our inner dialog. Self-awareness is our superpower and the first step to changing our unproductive habits.

We become so accustomed to the negative words we use, that we barely notice them.

And if we do, we chalk it up to being a realist. We think beating ourselves up will save us from others taking their shots. It’s much easier to take our beating than one from the outside (which likely wasn’t real because people aren’t thinking about us, remember?). We think tough words keep us sharp and motivated. Would you work for a boss who relied on negative words and feedback to “keep you sharp”? I think not!

Now that we are aware of our tendencies, what now?

Time to make an intentional SHIFT! This does not mean we are happy, or things are peachy. This means we choose to describe things in ways that help us see opportunity.

The way we talk to ourselves is like going to the doctor and listening to all the things you can’t do when you are injured. What changes if you ask, “What can I do, Doc?” Our team doctors knew that question was coming in each visit with injured athletes. I’m sure some of the athletes wished I had stayed home, but asking what she could do put her in control instead of being overwhelmed by a list of “can’t dos”!

When we were at Akron, we had a list in our Winner’s Manual that included “can do” options for those with injuries. (I’m sure the athletes loved it 😊). One list was for those with upper-body injuries, and one was for those with lower-body injuries.

Between my staff and the trainer, we highlighted the things the injured athlete could do, which kept her moving, improving and connected.

Instead of focusing on eliminating negative self-talk, we can redirect our energy toward cultivating a more productive use of language and constructive self-talk. We need to build ourselves a list like this when we are under pressure, injured or afraid of what is to come. We need to ask that negative doctor in our head what can we do and what good have we done. We can focus on strengths, setting realistic goals and turn challenges into opportunities.

Research shows that this approach improves performance and enhances recovery from injuries.

Time to make the shift so I can get back to sweating at 6!

Last week I mentioned that I use Identify – Decide – Act when talking with my athletes about hitting. Let’s add to this as a tool to introduce more productive language to our inner dialog.

Our process can look like this – Identify – Decide – COMMIT – Act.

We become aware of and identify our inner BS talk. We decide, after considering the consequences, that we need to shift to more productive language. We commit to a plan that will make us better. No him-hawing around. And we take action by introducing a new statement or image that moves us in the right direction. We go from “that wasn’t bad” to “that was good.”

We will never rid ourselves of negative thoughts or words. However, no rule says we must entertain every thought we have or listen to every word we say! It’s not about suppression. It’s about noticing and shifting.

We can make a list of the repeated negative things we say and have a replacement at the ready or we can commit to paying attention to our tendencies and work on this in real time. No matter how we do it, we will be better for it!

Let’s see how long we can go without allowing negative words in what we think and speak.

How long do you think you can go today?

No matter how long you make it, I guarantee you will use non-productive words less simply because you are aware And once you are aware, you can intentionally make a shift! Like anything else, the more we do it, the better we get!

Want to try it with me? As you can tell, I need some help… and a chiropractor 😊!

Manage the moments, and what you say!


Julie Jones

Mental Performance Coach

SSB Performance • 234-206-0946

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