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In this podcast we discuss Self-Talk and how effective use of this key concept can help you manage your thoughts, to improve your personal performance in all spheres of your life. Rugby star Jonny Wilkinson is well-known for using a similar approach as an elite athlete.

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Podcast transcript

Once again, we’re discussing one of the concepts within our free ebook, the Elite Business Athlete in this Tougher Minds podcast. The Elite Business Athlete explains how performance secrets from global sporting icons can be beneficial and transformative for everyone. The ebook provides an overview of key concepts that boost resilience, personal performance and wellbeing. It’s free to download. This podcast is closely related to a previous episode we recorded about mental imagery. Tougher Minds founder Dr. Jon Finn began by explaining why the two concepts are closely connected.

We think in words and pictures. In psychology we typically call it imagery and self-talk. And imagery is extended by what you see through your eyes as well, in real time. Self-talk kind of works like that as well. You’ve got the talk that you have in your head, but you’re also speaking out loud as well. They’re not unconnected.

cognitive behavioral therapy will be trying help people to get a better control over the words and pictures that they say to themselves. I guess that’s maybe the limitation of mindfulness, which is quite faddy at the moment, which is very much about self awareness, but not actually about taking control, but yes…words and pictures are the heart of CBT, which is at the heart of what we’re interested in helping people to get better at.

Some people say, and I have certainly heard it myself, they’ll say, well, I tried to have an empty mind. I don’t talk to myself. I’m not speaking to myself. And you can show them that indeed that is occurring. That process is happening in real time.

Yes secause as you say, you are speaking to yourself. The brain is an attention machine, it’s designed to pay attention and is also actually designed to solve problems, first of all, problems related to threats.

So your brain is continually looking out for information. So although you can calm the mind, you can’t empty it. It’s always paying attention to something so that’s a, you know, it’s an unusual idea for a lot of people, but in fact to extend on that, I think the fact that we’re always thinking is an unusual idea for a lot of people. And that’s completely understandable because we are so habitual in nurture, we understand this increasingly, we are continually trying to predict what’s going on in the world says mentally difficult to recognize that were conscious all the time. We’re thinking all the time, and it seems that if we’ve got an ability to get control over our thinking and to ultimately build better thinking habits, then that seems to be quite important for being health, happy and high performing in the 21st century.

Now in the Elite Business Athlete ebook, you suggest a very interesting way for people to start to think about getting control over this self talk and what they, what they’re saying inside their head. And you’re using the idea of an invisible pair of headphones or audio system.

Just to give the intangible…well to make the intangible tangible and real. And it is like that. You’re continually listening to yourself, your opinions on the world. What are your opinions about yourself? You know, and it’s there all the time. It’s approximated that everyday people say about 60,000 words out loud, but in their head, in their head, they’re speaking tens and tens of thousands of words. It’s just always on. We’re always processing information and making sense of the situation, actually the first bit of sense we’re trying to make is this, is this thing threatened into us or not because that’s what your brain is designed to do. So the idea of, you know, you’ve got these headphones that you’re listening to, your own feedback to all the time, and being aware of who’s dictating what’s playing on my headphones or is it their A.P.E. brain or is it the H.A.C. brain So yeah, that seems to be quite a powerful, simple exercise that helps people to recognize that they are indeed talking to themselves continually.

And, and I was about to say, you mentioned it then, but because of the, the understanding the insight underpins a great deal of, of, of what Tougher Minds does to, to help and support people. That there is this human predisposition towards focusing on, on threat and difficulty, that it’s likely that your default mode is maybe a troubling one or not helpful Is that fair? Is it fair to characterize it in that way?

Yes. And to extend that understanding, I think what we said when we, when we think of threats, you might think of violence or uh, you know, hurting yourself physically. We have a physical perception of what practice, but because humans are so wired to be interested in more other humans, think of the then not been liked by other people is threatening, you know, so I don’t look very good. That might lead to people not liking me. People are saying these things about me. I’m not very good at data that might lead to people saying good things about me or nice things about me. I’m not particularly good at this subject or this particular skill at work. So we have this self consciousness, which is in varying degrees of people within different people. But you know, they’re, they can be unhelpful. And I think that some interesting research where we talk about, I think there’s a commonly understood term of where it rose tinted glasses.

So the idea that some people look at themselves than others with the degree of Tint, some have a greater degree than others and it’s this idea that you’re not very good Angela, a proceeding how good you are at something or how, how, how good you are at something unless it’s studies where they will ask people to perform a skill and they’ll have to self assess themselves on a scale. And then the researchers will also assess them on the skill and the more that the higher the participant score is compared to where the researchers score them, the more they’re deemed to have a tint on their glasses because the lower the participant score is compared to other researchers call them the lower the tin that deans have online classes, and those with not in our glasses I guess see it exactly how it is or maybe even worse than it is.

And it seems like if you have literally no tint on your glasses, you get depressed pretty easily. So, having some bias about our ability to do things seems to be helpful, I guess having too much bias is unhelpful, but we have this default position it seems, you know, as a, as a general experience for human beings that we can be ourselves up. Anything we practice, we get better at. So if you keep practicing beating yourself up, then you get really good at because you develop in a more neurological connections for it. So you know, it’s important that we recognize that and then we’ve got some things we can do to actually step that pattern of maybe what we might say very simply call negative thinking or we call it an unhelpful thinking and if we can recognize that we’re always talking to ourselves and sometimes it’s not helpful. Then that’s the first step to, to do something about it.

Now in the, in the podcast that we discussed and the idea of mental imagery, we talked about the golfing great Jack Nicklaus, a legend in the game of course, and we spoke about his, his notion of going to the movies in his head and the Tougher Minds technique of using mental imagery to our advantage. And in the Elite Business Athlete ebook for this specific principal you choose to focus on the rugby star Jonny Wilkinson, of course, famous for the England rugby team’s victory in the Rugby World Cup in 2003 in Australia. He kicked the winning drop goal, and he’s synonymous with accuracy, and his goal kicking of course, and is a record breaker in that area, and is also known for absolute dedication and professionalism and inscrutability if you like. And Jonny Wilkinson, you have pinpointed, uses this idea of self talk to help his performance specifically in the area of goal kicking.

Yes. When I was a university lecturer, I had a student who was also a professional rugby player and he was also an international professional player and he was a goal kicker.
And I have a huge interest in pre-shot routines and we have a party of Tougher Minds that’s Pre-Shot, which has developed some very sophisticated strategies to help people appreciate routines and the student was also interested in pre-shot routines and he was interviewing the best rugby union and rugby league goalkickers and actually his work was interested in what the differences were between the rugby league and rugby union goal kickers and the way that they approach their pre-shot routines, and he was interested in the physical aspects and the mental aspects. And he actually interviewed Jonny Wilkinson. He was one of his participants and you know, it’s very clear, not just Jonny Wilkinson, but all those fantastic world class goal kickers, they’re very aware of, of self talk. I think you can see that an extended in sort of the interviews with those guys give to the press; so they not just aware of it, they’re consciously practicing what they need to be saying to themselves, before, during and after the rugby ball. So we’re able to see very clearly what Jonny Wilkinson was aiming to say it to himself to try to control his thinking, during quite a complicated motor skill under pressure, which a, when you’ve got to perform complicated tasks under pressure, it can cause problems.

So yeah, it’s a really nice example of someone who’s fantastic at performing under pressure. I think Wilkinson is still second only to Dan Carter in the world rankings, if he’s not second he’ll be third, you know. So he’s not kicked international goals for a long time. And his record is right up there, it shows you how many, how many goals he did kick. So it’s a nice example, but I think you see that, you see Rory McIlroy talking about that alot, you see Bradley Wiggins talking about that a lot. You know, the guys at the top of the game and the sport and I think in business and in any sphere that they are aware of the importance of managing their thoughts, their self talk.
But I think that that Wilkinson example is very powerful and it does get people’s attention

And something you just touched on then, this idea of having a routine of thinking, a sequence of self talk. You mentioned the word pressure, obviously Jonny Wilkinson in many phases of his career and in many moments was under extreme pressure, millions watching on TV, packed stadium, moving Twickenham 82,000 capacity, obviously played in a lot of other great rugby arenas around the world as well. So he used this system to insulate himself from that pressure.

Yes that’s a good way to look at. A way that we use to explain this when we used to do a lot of work with the golf coaches and golfers is that, you know, your head Is like imagine your heads like a cup and it’s always full of inflammation because your brain is designed to pay attention to the information. And you know, part of a good mental routine is, is you are planning what you’re going to fill that cup with. You’re not letting the A.P.E. brain kind of dictate the terms. It seems that we, the only way we can beat the A.P.E. is by out planning it, because you know, we can’t out fight it. So you have to make sure you’re very clear about what we are putting into our brain and we’ve got to practice it and practice it. You know the thing with Jonny Wilkinson is he didn’t just discover this one day in an international game, he has been practicing since he was a teenager. I think actually it’s quite interesting how he set off this trend of more sophisticated routines, both physically and mental levels of sophistication that other goal kickers started to adapt based on his success.

You mean they’re more sort of, shall we call it theatrical, perhaps a eccentric looking actions that they perform but actually are married into their thought processes and thus benefiting them.

Yes. So the physical triggers related to a mental triggers because what you’re saying, so you see, oh, in firewall guesses, drawing some kind of line between the bowl and the person. He’s doing this sort of funny looking thing with his head. So yeah, I know that Wilkinson where we filed a works with viral and we kind of advisors, so yeah, I think the people copy success, dorothy ultimately, but it’s often the men the robustness of the mental routine that’s missing for people because you it. Yeah. Well yeah, I’ve got a routine and invite some people say no, I don’t have a routine, which is nonsense as well because you’ve got a little gold. You have to put the bowl down and you have to walk backwards. You have to kick it ass a routine, something you do all the time. So again, lost people’s level of self awareness. He’s been occluded by a habit because it’s just an automatic process. And again, done a lot of work with um, with golf was the bell for the Professional Golf Association. Get the uh, the assistant professionals to video record their routines. They’re always amazed at that. A little physical quirks. They have what you said they forget they do because it’s such a, an automatic process. I’m getting right back to the idea of knowing what to do versus being able to do it. You know. Well, I know the importance of self talk, of course I do, I know about positive affirmations, but it’s about building the habit so that it becomes part of what you think about, not just something that you know about. Um, and if they’re going to become part of your hobby, you need to be able to practice it. That’s why we build such structures into things like our performance planners to help people to harness a better self talk habits.

I was going to say, we’ve talked briefly about two generations of rugby. Great. The new breed in one barrel of course, enjoys a significantly prominent position now with England and he talked about golf and other applications in sport, but tough of mind to show them that this system, this approach is equally as applicable and equally beneficial to people doing all thoughts of professional jobs and facing up to all sorts of professional challenges.

Yes. So the personally for me, when I went to work in education, when I was asked to do so by the haberdashers transfer some misunderstanding from sports psychology into education, then you know, we’ll routines is one of the things I was paying a lot of attention to. Yeah, you can apply exactly the same thing could fall to. Now I know for a fact that on our year seven transition program this week I’m at school or you have an extensive yes, seven transition program, but people’s get a lesson of sulfur mines a week that their pupils were learning about Jonny Wilkinson, but how they can translate it into what they do when they’re studying both in a business school class, but also doing privates today, directly drawing comparisons from what they need to do best on a sort of lessons from Jonny Wilkinson and people I. Bradley Wiggins. So yeah, he’s completely transferable. It’s not so obvious. You have to kind of taught me about three years to work out how to do it, but you can’t do it. It’s very powerful.

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