Improve Your Grit with Self-Talk
Coaching and Nutrition
By Nike Training
How to become your biggest ally.
Nope, it’s not just you: everyone does self-talk, which is what you say about yourself in your head. Perfecting what that little voice says is key, because “the right kind of self-talk can develop your confidence, while the wrong kind of self-talk can squash it,” says Angela Duckworth, a University of Pennsylvania professor and author of Grit: The Power and Passion of Perseverance. Here’s how working on the way you talk to yourself can increase your grit, helping you go harder in any challenge.
“High-performers and low-performers both have a running internal dialogue — the difference is what they use it to say."
Imagine if after a really bad game or poor performance, your self-talk was all negative, spiraling you into a pit of shame, criticism, and self-loathing,” she says. Same goes for when you fall off the wagon in other ways, like missing a workout or eating something you regret. If you tell yourself you’re the worst and you’re never going to succeed, it’s not very motivating to get back at it. Negative self-talk makes you feel so badly about yourself that you don’t want to try again, so it ends up pushing you even further from your goals.
In her research, Duckworth has found a two-part strategy for positive self-talk that gets you back on track. The first part is mindful acceptance: without judgement or blame, just acknowledge the imperfection — for example, saying I slept through yesterday’s workout. The second part is self-compassion. For this step, “think of what your mom, your best friend, or anyone who loves you might say about your misstep,” advises Duckworth. Their narration would be “compassionate, loving, positive, and understanding” while still not letting you off the hook. It also should include a prompt of “what you can learn from it and how you plan to do better next time.” Then try saying it to yourself. In practice, that might sound like: I’m disappointed I skipped yesterday’s workout, but it’s just one time, and I’ve been great about moving in the direction of my goals. Tomorrow I’m going to set the alarm 10 minutes earlier, so that if I snooze once, I still have time to do the workout. Now that’s a gritty person who is going to rebound quickly and get back to business.
Even pro athletes like long-distance runner Shalane Flanagan, who won the 2017 New York City Marathon and a silver in the 2008 Olympics, occasionally catch themselves in the spiral of negative self-talk. During excruciating training runs when she’s tired and her body hurts, Flanagan sometimes hears her self-talk veering into the negative: “I'm not good enough, I'm not talented enough, I'm not working hard enough,” she admits. But because she’s aware of her self-talk, warning bells go off, and she makes a conscious decision to transform the narrative in her head.
“I view my mind as a muscle in training."
“It doesn’t come naturally to me, but that’s when I choose to be optimistic,” she says. “I tell myself, Shalane, this is the moment you're going to work harder and lean into the pain of the workout. What separates the cream of the crop, even with elite athletes, is their mindset and the psychology of how they deal with adversity. I view my mind as a muscle in training.”
Changing your self-talk isn’t a switch you can just flip overnight. It’s a work in progress that becomes a little faster and more natural each time you practice. Soon, you’ll be harnessing the power of your inner cheerleader, and seeing how that helps you crush any challenge.
We challenge you to elevate your self-talk so it helps propel you forward. Consider this micro-change to add a positive mantra to your next workout.
Make It a Habit: The hardest part of a workout is often just showing up. So right before you start your NTC workout, try saying a positive self-talk mantra aloud, like “I already did the hardest part.” Then give yourself a mental high-five for motivating and believing in yourself. When times get tough during the workout, go back to that mantra: “I already did the hardest part.” It can help build your confidence, power you through the moment, and help you finish strong.