We so often talk about positive or negative thoughts. And much of the work from a cognitive behavioural perspective (that many sport psychologists work from) pushes the idea of identifying and then reframing our negative thoughts into more positive ones. This can be really effective but it takes a lot of practice and can feel really awkward to begin with. I’ve also realised that for some of us our negative thoughts can actually be quite helpful. A thought which may feel negative like: “I’m not good enough to be in this race” can actually be quite helpful for making us try to work harder in the race so as not to embarrass ourselves. Or I often justify to myself: “It’s ok – at least I’m doing something” when actually I’m not working as hard as I should be. So while the thought is positive, it is pretty unhelpful at making me work at the intensity my coach wanted me to be working at.
Over time I’ve started to think instead about not separating our thoughts into negative or positive ones but instead into helpful and unhelpful ones. To me it feels a little less awkward to reframe unhelpful thoughts into helpful ones. And gives us a little bit of separation from the mood we happen to be in that day where we may over interpret everything as positive or negative.
So, think about the thoughts you’ve had during your last match, or race or training session and classify them into unhelpful and helpful.
For the unhelpful thoughts:
- What am I thinking?
- Why am I thinking this?
- What would I prefer to have been feeling right then?
- What thought would be helpful to achieving that?
For the helpful thoughts?
- What did that thought help me do?
- Which future situations can I use it again for?
Doing this process regularly can help you become much more self-aware of which thoughts are helpful and which ones are sabotaging your goals.