Coaching Ourselves Up
Do you ever stop and notice the ways in which you talk to yourself? I am not suggesting that you are some kind of mad individual who walks around muttering nonsensical things to yourself out loud in public. Rather, I am asking if you pay much attention to the inner dialogue inside your mind that speaks to you quite often.
Most people don't pay it much attention, but if you learn to listen to it, you will be on the path towards better self-fulfillment, productivity, and overall well-being.
I was working with a professional soccer player the other day. She was telling me about a drill during a training session that she was having trouble grasping. No matter how hard she tried, she kept messing up. I asked her what she was thinking while this was happening, and she said, "I kept getting more nervous each time. I wanted to quit, because I was having negative thoughts. I felt like I wasn't good enough to be on the team."
If you think about it, her situation is not uncommon. More times than not, when we feel like we have failed at something or have fallen short on a task, that little voice in our head (the ego) berates us. Because of this, we are usually much harder on ourselves when something goes wrong than we would be to a teammate or loved one under the same circumstances.
The reason this happens is because it is the ego's job to protect us from perceived threats, whether real or imagined. The ego wants us to avoid what it considers to be dangerous, embarrassing, or precarious situations. In doing this, the ego's intentions are in the right place, but it often goes overboard. From an evolutionary perspective, the ego, by always protecting us from perceived "right around the corner" dangers, has helped our species to survive for thousands of years. This was especially helpful in primitive times when our ancestors feared being attacked by a rival hunting and gathering tribe or a pack of large stampeding animals. However, in today's modern society, we really do not have to worry about being on "red alert" for daily survival, but we are still wired this way.
So, what can we do about it, you ask? We can start paying attention to what our ego or inner voice sounds like when we get stressed out. It's important that we do not try to resist it. This will only make the voice stronger. Instead of trying to fight it, ignore it, or stuff it away, we should bring our awareness to what it is saying. If we find that the voice is being harshly critical of us when something isn't going our way, we can do what I told my soccer player to do: "Coach yourself up,"
When I told her to coach herself up, I was not suggesting that she talk to herself in an overly cheesy way. Indulging in forced toxic positivity never helps. While I love Mr. Rogers and Ted Lasso, their kind of voices aren't what is needed here. Instead, I encouraged her to use her authentic voice and to mentally "coach herself up," whenever she hears that inner critic berating her in her mind.
When I told her this initially, she looked at me as if I were crazy. Then I explained it by asking her this, "How do you speak to a teammate that is having a rough time on the field?" She responded by saying, "I encourage them." I told her that's what I wanted her to do with herself from now on. It makes no sense that when we mess up, we are hard on ourselves, but when a teammate messes up, we try to lift them up, whether it's a high-five, a slap on the backside, or a few words of encouragement. We need to start doing this with ourselves as well.
Don't get me wrong. I like that she is not happy when she makes a mistake on the pitch. This means she is competitive, and soccer is meaningful to her. However, I want her to get upset about it, process it quickly, coach herself up, and move on. There is nothing productive about holding on to the mistake and not letting it go. Furthermore, it is even less productive if we continue to berate ourselves mentally after every mistake or mishap. When we learn to coach ourselves up, we master the skill of learning from our mistakes in order to get better.
Think of ways you can apply this to your life. It obviously has practical implications that reach far beyond the soccer pitch. How good are you at listening to that inner critic in your head? When is the last time you have coached yourself up after a work or social situation for you didn't go as planned? We can't always depend on others to lift us up when we need it, but we can learn to become more self-sufficient at doing it for ourselves. It's a self-regulation skill that is worth practicing, because while we can't always control what happens to us, we can control our response. There is great power in this.
Greg Graber, the author of Slow Your Roll- Mindfulness for Fast Times, teaches mindfulness and Social & Emotional (SEL) skills to schools, top sports teams, and various organizations around the world. Graber, a frequent keynote speaker, currently serves as the Director of SEL at Lausanne Collegiate School. He may be contacted through his website: www.greggraber.com