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The power of self-talk

by HARVEY MACKAY
| October 8, 2023 1:00 AM

World-renowned ocular surgeon Dr. James Gills is the only person to complete six double Ironman triathlons. When asked how he did it, he said, "I've learned to talk to myself instead of listening to myself. If I listen to myself, I hear all the doubts, fears and complaints of why I can't finish the race. If I talk to myself, I can feed myself with the words I need to keep moving forward."

Such is the power of positive self-talk — conversations in our minds. Self-talk can shape your beliefs and influence your emotions and behavior. The key is to stay away from negative self-talk like "I can't" and turn it positive — to "I can." It's basically coaching yourself.

Negative thinking affects how we look at life. It causes stress. If you find yourself thinking negatively, stop and think how you can tell yourself the same message in a positive way. For example, instead of telling yourself that you are constantly late and disorganized, say, "If I start setting alarms on my phone and getting up earlier, I could really change things." Find something positive in the difficulties of each day.

Research shows that self-talk can not only help with performance and endurance, but it can have many health benefits besides reducing stress, such as increased vitality, greater life satisfaction, improved immune function, reduced pain and better cardiovascular health.

Studies show positive self-talk can improve your outlook on life, while helping you solve problems and cope with hardships and challenges. It increases your motivation, self-confidence and resilience.

It takes time, practice and patience to train yourself to think and talk to yourself positively, but it is well worth the effort.

Be careful how you talk to yourself, because you are listening. Your body hears everything your mind says, so be positive. Change the voices in your head.

One of the ways I do this is by surrounding myself with positive people. I find that my attitude changes with the company I keep. I prefer to look on the bright side and anticipate what I can fix or preserve. I count my blessings every day. When you start to appreciate what you have, your positivity improves exponentially.

Be aware of negative triggers like blaming yourself for everything or expecting the worst in all situations. Think about the times you have had successes when things looked the lowest. Find humor to ease tension.

The events of the last few years have illustrated how important it is to practice positive self-talk. Businesses that survived the pandemic had to work extremely hard to stay afloat. Believe me, if you had any intention of fighting that economy, you had to find a way to look for the silver lining.

Business leaders must find a way to motivate workers every day. Successful companies don't become and stay successful by focusing on the negative. Good managers encourage employees to look for solutions instead of dwelling on problems. Self-talk is one effective way to do that.

The sports world provides some terrific examples of what positive self-talk can do.

Soccer star Sofia Huerta, who plays for the U.S. Women's National Team, knows just what to say to boost your confidence. "Right after you brush your teeth, look in that mirror," she says. "And remember to remind yourself, whatever you want to say, but you're amazing, you're capable and you're beautiful."

She added, "Don't let that imagination and that negative self-talk take over and get in the way of your dreams."

Boxer Floyd Mayweather attributes a lot of his success to self-talk. He constantly told himself, "Ain't no fighter beat me. There is no fighter better than me. If you think about losing, you will lose. All I ever thought about was winning."

Here's a final story to illustrate my point. One day, a deer was admiring his reflection in a lake and said: "Where can you see such noble antlers as these? I wish I had legs worthy of bearing such a glorious crown. It is a pity they are so slim and unsightly."

At that moment, a hunter appeared and sent an arrow flying toward the deer, but he was able to run off by means of his nimble legs. Thank goodness for those "unsightly" limbs.

Build on your strengths. Don't tear yourself down and dwell on your weaknesses. Be the best you can be.

Mackay's Moral: When you talk to yourself, you get the answer you want.

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Harvey Mackay is the author of the New York Times bestseller "Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive." He can be reached through his website, www.harveymackay.com, by emailing harvey@mackay.com or by writing him at MackayMitchell Envelope Co., 2100 Elm St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414.