The Power of Words
Whatever the mind can conceive, and believe, it can achieve.
Napoleon Hill, Think and Grow Rich
As a trainer, you are your own most important critic. It is crucial to your success that you teach yourself to recognize unfair self-criticism and turn it into empowering self-talk. Practicing empowering self-talk and working on your mindset is actually just as important as practicing the technical aspects of your training. The same way that the technical aspects you learn during your training need practice, the mental aspects of your teaching methods need practice.
My clients often express frustration that they possess identical, if not superior, training abilities as their competition, yet other students consistently outperform theirs. The same holds true for your students. In many cases, the factor that separates their performance from the competition is that they are operating with a limiting belief about their athletic ability and the level of performance they are capable of achieving. Their resulting flawed performance is evidence that their personal core beliefs will ultimately determine the reality they manifest.
What we tell ourselves has a profound impact on our performance. In fact, in my experience, the single most important and effective thing that both trainers and riders can do to improve their performance is to change negative self-talk into positive, empowering self-talk.
Self-talk is exactly what it sounds like. It’s your internal dialogue – the words you use when you talk to yourself either in your own mind or out loud to your students.
It’s been established by neuroscientists and psychologists that most people carry on an ongoing dialogue, or self-talk, of between 150 and 300 words per minute. Most of this self-talk consists of the mundane, routine, and harmless thoughts we all have such as “I’m hungry,” or “I need to get my hair cut soon.”
The danger for riders and trainers is when this internal dialogue takes on a negative connotation such as, “I’ll never be as good as she is,” or “I don’t even belong training at this level”. When this kind of self-talk becomes ongoing, you create limiting beliefs about yourself and about your abilities that may, if left unchecked, go on to become self-fulfilling prophecies.
For those of you who are academic-minded, consider Expectancy Theory (and the Placebo Effect), which states that you don’t always get what you want, or what you work for, but you will more often than not get what you expect. If your student expects to miss a fence, they will. If they don’t expect to get the ribbon, they won’t.
There are many “self-talk mistakes” that both riders (and trainers) commonly make when preparing for and riding in a show. Read through each of these and see if any of them apply to you or your students.
• Focusing on the past or future
“I chipped my first three fences last time I was here.” “I can’t believe how badly I messed that transition up.” These are classic examples of hanging onto of past mistakes. It’s just as counterproductive to worry about what might happen. As a trainer, you can always have complete control over the present moment, and that’s where your thoughts need to be.
• Thinking only of the outcome
“I need my student to win,” or, “I need to impress the judges” are thoughts about the outcome, something that a trainer has little control over. What you do have control over, however, is your own performance. Work to change your self-talk to help your student with their belief system and their ability to perform. As you teach your student to believe in themselves, they will then focus on what needs to be done to turn in their best possible performance, and to trust that the outcome will take care of itself.
• Focusing on outside factors beyond your control
“I hate showing when it’s hot,” or, “I don’t like who is judging.” These types of thoughts are a waste of your mental energy and can only hurt yours and your student’s confidence, and therefore the performance. Work to keep your thoughts on controllable factors.
• Focusing on weaknesses during competition
The time to focus on your student’s weaknesses is during practice, NOT at the show grounds.
• Demanding perfection
Avoid telling your student: “This needs to be a perfect go,” or berating them for small mistakes while in the ring. All athletes make mistakes, but it’s the really great ones who can make a mistake and continue their performance unfazed. It’s unrealistic to expect anyone to execute the perfect go every time out.
The idea of perfection makes people drive and strive and exhaust themselves, only to constantly feel inadequate and self-critical. If you want to demand something of your students, demand that they do the best they can at each moment to perform correctly. Each movement, each jump, if done correctly will give a better outcome all around.
Creating Positive Self-Talk
We use only a fraction of the 750,000 words in the English language (just a couple thousand, on average). First, do some vocabulary building, and while you’re at it, some weeding out, as well. There are a handful of words that most people frequently use, which affect the subconscious so negatively, we could all benefit by eliminating them from our vocabularies. Let’s start by addressing the most important words to avoid when you’re talking to yourself or to your students.
Words to Avoid
Try is one of the most poisonous words in the English language. This venomous little word can cause much misery. TRY means to test, to attempt to do something. But its connotation is deadly, as it creates three reactions in the subconscious.
1. It programs failure. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try . . . again. The ellipse between “try” and “again” means over and over again. Failure is implicit in the word try. I tried to make that transition (but failed). I tried to be a good trainer (but failed).
2. Try is a wholly negative word. Life requires total commitment, and try gives you an ideal out to escape responsibility for doing or not doing something. It is the word many people hide behind. They refuse to commit themselves to yes or no. It’s so easy to seek the middle ground and say “I’ll try” whether you want to or not. As you utter the word try, your student’s subconscious immediately picks it up and says FAIL. Listen to your students who use the word TRY a lot. Invariably, they are failure-oriented and frustrated.
3. TRY is passive. Your processor (mind) gives you something to do with words like run, jump, or sit. Now think of the word “try”. What are you doing to do with try?
Replace self-defeating talk with “Just do it.”
Every word you speak or hear causes a certain kind of emotional and physical response. HOPE promotes a feeling of anxiety—the subtle dread that something bad is about to happen. “I hope I score well this time” creates a negative response. There is an unhealthy feeling and there is serious doubt about whether they can do it. This emotional response takes place without their conscious awareness because everyone’s emotions are rooted in the subconscious.
When you use the word PROBLEM you are emphasizing an obstacle and generating a feeling of helplessness, making this word deadly. If you dwell on your student’s defects, their nonselective, subjective mind accepts your words as their command, produces the same results in their riding performance. Replace “problem” by giving your student a solution.
In the English language, “can” means that you physically have the ability to do something. “Can’t” thus means that you are physically unable to do something. That is a very powerful, very negative concept.
Have you ever told a student, “Don’t miss the lead change” and then they missed the lead change? Everyone does this with the same outcome: disappointment. Why? Because the subconscious mind is incapable of producing the word “not” in your behavior. It produces everything but “not.” So it produces behavior that supports “Miss the lead change.”
Your knowledge of how the subconscious handles negative words like “not,” “don’t,” and “won’t,” will be especially useful when you are working with your students. Start stating the outcome you desire in the positive, such as, “You always get every lead change.” It will make you a better trainer, and get more positive results from your students.
The Two Most Powerful Words You Can Use
• I am
These three letters, when put together like this—I am—are a powerful tool for both negative and positive self-talk. Why? Because your subconscious will assume the identity of whatever follows them. The same is true for “You are” when you are working with your students. These words imply that you (or your student) and the state of being you describe are inextricable. So if you say, “You are so stiff”, then your student’s mind believes they and “so stiff” are the same thing; they are one. So if you are working with a student to ride smoothly with grace, you will have a very difficult time, as they are carrying around the very obstacle you seek to eliminate.
How to Change Your Self-Talk
How do you actually change your self-talk to be more positive? We can’t really control the thoughts that come into our heads, right?
There are two ways to eliminate negative self-talk. One is through a process commonly referred to as “thought stopping,” which involves four steps:
1) Become aware of self-talk
2) Stop the negative
3) Replace with positive
4) Practice the act of stopping negative thoughts.
Easy enough, right?
The only problem is that for thought stopping to be effective, it requires lots and lots of practice on the conscious level. The way we think and talk to ourselves can be a terribly hard habit to break, considering we’ve been doing it a certain way for our entire lives. To improve your self-talk this way, you need to work hard to learn to recognize when you’re engaging in negative self-talk, then you need to work equally hard at stopping those thoughts and replacing them with positive ones. Fortunately, there’s an easier, faster way of changing your self-talk.
The second way that you can eliminate your negative self-talk requires very little effort at all, because you use your subconscious mind. Hypnosis is the way to reprogram your subconscious mind. Your subconscious mind is what tells you that you need to stop at a red light or to pedal the bike to make it go. These are actions that, over time, cease to require conscious thought and seem to happen on their own. In truth it’s your subconscious (which makes up about 88% of your mind!) that takes care of these things for you.
Let’s look at how one simple word can powerfully transform your self-talk . . .
The CANCEL Technique
You can quickly change negative self-talk into empowering, positive self-talk with hypnosis. When you learn the CANCEL technique on the subconscious level, you will automatically say the word CANCEL, and replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Remember that you are setting yourself up to make mistakes when you are thinking a negative thought. CANCEL tells your mind to do just that, cancel that thought so you can move to a more positive frame of mind.
And if you can’t think of anything positive… picture a purple elephant!
Imagine achieving the best outcomes for all of your students… now just do it!