WaterWoman's Journey: Positive Self Talk

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It’s time to change the conversation in your head.  

Do you approach every challenge, every surf session, every day with a bright sunny, positive outlook?  

The truth is the most of us suffer from an internal negative feedback loop in our heads during part or most of lives.  This negative inner-dialogue can flare up especially when we are learning something new or trying to step out of our comfort zones.  Think: surfing. Our old friend, fear, rocks up and starts telling you that you’re not good, strong, smart or capable enough for the challenge at hand.

If you notice that you frequently engage in negative self-talk, have pessimistic views of upcoming challenges, a tendency to make excuses or blame the waves, other people, or other circumstances, this post is for you.

We’re going to flip the switch, change the channel, and reprogram our self talk to reap the benefits.  Positive thoughts and a positive attitude will take you a long way in surfing and in life. A positive mental atmosphere will help you feel confident, relaxed, and happy when faced with any challenge.  You’ll make better decisions, react appropriately, and persist through setbacks. So, are you ready to change the conversation in your brain?

Learning a new skill like surfing, holding your breath or freediving can be met with some serious negative mental resistance.

Learning a new skill like surfing, holding your breath or freediving can be met with some serious negative mental resistance.

Step 1 - Confront:  

The first step is like flicking on a light switch in the basement: a few cockroaches and maybe even a rat scurry to get out of the light. You need to start to listen to what you are telling yourself.  Turn the light on your thoughts. Expose whether you are mistreating yourself through constant criticism, beratement or even name calling.

If you’re having a hard time hearing your inner-voice, try this: start with a positive affirmation.  A positive affirmation is a positive statement of a positive belief. We are going to talk about these in more detail later, but for now, start with something like, “I am a talented surfer,” “I am brave in big waves,” “I am a strong paddler.”  Say it out loud to yourself and listen to all the excuses, objections or caveats that your brain comes up with.

Write these down and spend some time reflecting on where these negative beliefs came from.  Time-travel in your mind to the point in time where you remember developing this negative thought.  Was it a specific person who said you weren’t good enough or a specific experience that has flogged your confidence? If you can trace your negative belief to general fear or a specific incident be sure to add that to your Fear Prep Chart so you can make a plan of action to deal with it.

Become aware of what your telling yourself.  Rather than constantly criticize yourself, be your own coach, tell yourself that you’re doing your best and getting better with every wave and every session.  You’ve come so far and still have a lot of growing to do.

Step 2 - Refill:

While the first step is being aware of your negative inner-dialogue, the second step is to refill your mind with positive self-talk.  It’s a vicious cycle: when your mind is filled with negative self-talk and imagery, you are more likely to view situations and relationships from a negative perspective.  You will be less optimistic and less likely to see the good side of a given challenge. In order to break the pattern that you recognized in Step 1, it’s time to refill you brain with positive words and images.

Positive Affirmations

Warning: this may cause you internal embarrassment but you’re literally going to have to get over yourself!   When you first start using positive affirmations, you may feel lame or dorky: saying nice things to ourselves seems so hard to do! On the flip side, you may notice how easy it is to belittle yourself with negative affirmations. It’s much easier to say, “I am not strong enough/ not experienced enough/ not fit enough to surf or do this,” than to give yourself some credit and build up your own confidence.  

 

Once you’ve identified your core negative beliefs about yourself and done some detective work to find out the root cause of the belief, you can start using positive affirmations to refill your brain.  You can literally turn your negative affirmations into positive ones and then play them on repeat.

So,

  • “I am too old and unfit to surf,” becomes “I am in great shape to surf.”

  • “I am too inexperienced to paddle out there,” becomes “I have worked hard at becoming a surfer and I will trust my skills and intuition.”

  • “I can’t catch a wave,” becomes “I can and will catch a wave.”

  • “I can’t handle the waves in Indonesia,” becomes “I am going to surf in Indonesia where I feel comfortable.”

Say your affirmations in the morning while you stretch or breath or in the car on your way to go surfing.  

Cue Words

Cue words can be general (“never give up”) or specific (“hit the lip”).  These words are simply a short and gentle reminder to yourself to direct your focus onto your goal, performance in that moment or overall mood.  

Cue words work great for surfing especially when you working on a specific movement or skill.  If you wish to work on the placement of your feet, you could tell yourself “feet over the fins” or “feet down the stringer” every time you pop-up.  

These phrases could also consist of a more general mantra like telling yourself to, “focus on your breathing,” in big surf or “this too shall pass” when something unpleasant happens.  

Develop a few cue words that have personal meaning for you that you can use in the ocean.  Also think about any specific surfing skills you’ve been working on and think of short phrase that would help you do your best.  It’s important you are firm and direct in using these words in your head with the right tone and body language to complement the phrase.

Mental Imagery

You probably know your mind is crazy powerful, but most people don’t realize the impact of what they watch, see, and hear.  But, think about this, have you ever had a bedtime Facebook or Instagram binge, went to sleep, and then randomly dreamt about someone or something you saw on your feed?  Whatever you input remains in your mind’s eye.

 The truth is that the news, TV, and social media can paint a pretty negative backdrop that becomes the basis for our internal conversations.  Actively avoiding negative news and media that doesn’t serve you can change your outlook. In place of images of dismay, unfortunate circumstances, and human depravity, you can use visualization to change your mental tone.

Practice visualizing what you desire to happen in your life, surfing related or otherwise.  Paint a mental picture of you surfing in good waves or completing a maneuver you only have dreamed of (we’ll go over this sort of visualization more down the track).  You can also visualize something peaceful or serene to calm yourself.

Have you ever made a vision board?  There’s a reason this helps people achieve their goals.  If you can see something and picture yourself doing it, you’ve started the process.  

So, fill your brain with positive words and images.  Read positive books about people you admire accomplishing things.  Create a “surfing” vision board. Visualize the details of your best surf session.  Before you know it, you may be living out one your visualizations. At the very least, refilling your mind with positive words and images will set your internal compass towards self-compassion and optimism.  

Step 3 - Ban:

Back in 1943, a psychologist called Abraham Maslow wrote a paper titled, “A Theory of Human Motivation” that became very famous and is still relevant in 2018.  Maslow proposed a pyramid of human needs, at the top of which was self-actualization.

According to Maslow’s definition of self-actualization:  

"It may be loosely described as the full use and exploitation of talents, capabilities, potentialities, etc. Such people seem to be fulfilling themselves and to be doing the best that they are capable of doing... They are people who have developed or are developing to the full stature of which they capable."

In other words, the happiest, most-fulfilled person is someone who focuses on her talents and strengths. Not someone who constantly dwells on their downfalls or weaknesses.  

Surfing in a crowd can be a good thing! Look how many indicators you have of where and where not to sit!

Surfing in a crowd can be a good thing! Look how many indicators you have of where and where not to sit!

At some point after you’ve recognized and confronted your negative beliefs and refilled your mind with positive things, you have to break the pattern.  You can use a tool called reframing to shine a positive light on negative thoughts or you stop the thought dead in its tracks.

So, how do interrupt your line of thought when your inner-conversation turns dark?

Reframing

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can't, you're right.”- Henry Ford

Perspective is a hell of a tool.  If you can stop a negative line of thinking and find a way to be positive, you can literally flip a situation on its head.  An obstacle can become an advantage. Take something negative you often say to yourself and reframe it in a positive way or visualize how you wish the situation looked.

  • “I always wipeout when they waves are like this,” becomes, “This is a great opportunity to build my skills in these kind of waves.”

  • “The waves look gnarly, I am going to get held down,” becomes, “Bring it on, I want to test my ability to hold my breath.”

  • “It’s too crowded, I’ll next catch a wave,” becomes, “I’ll go out and watch the best surfer in the water and try to sit where he/she does.”

Before you judge yourself, another person or a situation, look for the brightside.  You can intentionally counteract negative messages with positive truths in your life.  Don’t give up if you don’t find them quickly. For every negative message there is a positive truth.  These truths always exist; keep looking until you find them.

Would you be able to tell any negative thoughts, “STOP,” if you woke up to this one morning?

Would you be able to tell any negative thoughts, “STOP,” if you woke up to this one morning?

Stopping

In some circumstances, you may need to stop yourself and ban negative thoughts from your brain all together.  The brain often latches onto a train of thought and refuses to release its grip. Below are a few ways to ban a negative thought when the mind has its jaws locked and won’t let go:

  1. Say “stop” firmly to yourself

  2. Say one of your cue words or positive affirmations with a strong, unrelenting tone

  3. Use movement or a new activity to distract your mind.  Ie: start paddling if you are sitting still, start stretching before you get in the water, dive off you board into the water.

  4. Use a physical cue such as clapping your hands, whistling, holding your board in a certain way as a signal to move on and start being confident.

You must be disciplined. Don’t berate yourself in your head. Stop that line of thinking and find a way to be positive or visualize how you wish the situation looked. Before you judge yourself, another person or a situation, look for the brightside.  

Now, take a moment to intentionally counteract those negative messages with positive truths in your life.  Don’t give up if you don’t find them quickly. For every negative message there is a positive truth that will override the weight of despair.  These truths always exist; keep looking until you find them.