Changing Negative Self Talk

How many times have you missed a break away or dropped off a wheel that you should have held on to, only to give out to yourself because of your mistake.  “I just don’t have it in the legs today”  “I can’t stay with these guys today!” “All the training and I still get nervous in the bunch!” Negative self-talk, the verbal things you say to yourself (silently or even out-loud) as you perform badly, only serves to enhance a negative attitude and keep you stuck in a rut of pessimism.

Self-talk comes in a lot of different forms and when done in a positive way can boost confidence but when it is done in a negative way it can quickly reduce your self-belief.  Many cyclists and triathletes I work with don’t even realise that they are using negative self talk until I point it out to them. It is only when you realise that you are beating yourself up over simple errors that you can make the changes to your mindset that will put you into a position of positive change.

It is interesting that if you were to abuse other people in races the way you verbally abuse yourself you would have no friends left. In fact we can sometimes easily forget the criticism that others can give us but the constant niggling inner voice can last longer and have a much more negative effect.

Most pro cyclists apply positive self-talk regularly to help them stay focused and confident during a race. A little while ago, I worked with a Pro cyclist who had different positive self talk sentences he would repeat to himself depending on what part of the race he was in.  For example coming up to a sprint he would be thinking “This is mine… and strong”. This is a good tip that you should definitely use in your events no matter what level you are at.


Developing Positive Self Talk

The first thing you have to be able to do is recognise when you begin to become critical of yourself and make an effort to change the behaviour.  When you say to yourself “I am terrible at cornering”, “This pace is too high for me”, or “Don’t get dropped again”, you are undermining your own confidence. Negative thinking leads to lower self-confidence and negative outcomes.

During your training or races, pay attention to what you say to yourself or think about and notice when you begin to get negative.  After your event or training session think about when you were negative with yourself and the type of things you were saying to yourself.


Now follow these 4 steps to change the Negatives into Positives

  • Write down what part of the event the negative comments occurred
  • Identify the negative thoughts or comments you said to yourself
  • Identify positive words or thoughts you can use instead of these negative comments
  • Practice the new positive comments and thoughts replacing the old negative ones in training and competition


The Research

The effects of association and positive self-talk on 40K time trial performance in trained male cyclists

Paul J. Ayres and M.D. Becque

Department of Physical Education, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois

Objective – The purpose of this study was to determine the effects of a cognitive strategy using association and positive self-talk on a 40K cycling time trial in trained male cyclists.

Conclusion – Trained cyclists can increase their internal intentional focus using a cognitive strategy which utilizes association and positive self-talk. Although the cognitive strategy did not result in a mean increase in performance, 5 of the 7 subjects increased performance by at least 1 minute. This strategy assures that the athlete is focused on his participation and may result in performance benefits.

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Photos Thanks To: skeeze / Pixabay, Tamasin / Pixabay