Stressed or annoyed? Talk to yourself!

Prof. Jan Mayer has been employed as a sports psychologist at TSG Hoffenheim for eleven years. The 48-year-old from Heidelberg has also worked with several national teams, including ski jumpers, target shooters, boxers and DFB (German FA) selection teams. In his books, he turns his insights from top-class sport into strategies that anyone can use.

Talking to yourself or monologuing is the most common cognitive strategy used by performance athletes to tap into their top performance in competition. A monologue is what athletes say to themselves, be it loudly, quietly or as a "voice in their head". You can train to use this inner monologue in a targeted manner, depending on the situation and requirements. Talking to yourself essentially controls your attention, motivation and state of mind. I regulate whether I am feeling good or bad through my own assessment. Many things or events can get on your nerves and thus disrupt your state of mind, which can then cause stress. In principle, however, the environment cannot change anything about your own state of mind. The environment is only perceived. And this perception is then evaluated internally.

You must first realise that destructive thoughts or monologues can significantly disrupt your state of mind and thus massively influence your own ability to perform. But everyone can control their thoughts and monologues and is therefore solely responsible for what goes through their minds in crucial situations. For professional footballers, this means that a player is responsible for whether he allows disturbing thoughts to arise due to the poor pitch conditions, the rain or an unpleasant opponent. He can also actively and proactively think of environmental conditions as a challenge that must be mastered.

This is not only about the general conditions (weather, opponents, etc.), but also often about the unpleasant situations in the match (own goal, falling behind, careless mistake, etc.). Being behind in a match is less "fun" than a comfortable lead. You can always see players who speak out loud to themselves and often act destructively in these situations, thereby making their performance worse. However, these unpleasant situations are often decisive for the game. Ultimately, victory or defeat often depends on who can continue to call on his top performance in these situations. Setbacks should be seen as particularly challenging – those who engage in negative monologues instead tend to inhibit themselves

Applied to everyday life, this means that in order to learn and train to better deal with such situations, you should be aware of the situations in which your own state of mind is hampered or disturbed. The aim is to formulate individually suitable and constructive monologues and to use them deliberately in comparable situations. The first episode of this series was titled "Be strong in mind when it gets tough." Success-oriented athletes are absolutely convinced of their abilities. To emphasise one's own strengths – that would be an ideal part of a monologue in a situation that you feel uncomfortable with.

Even if someone practises talking to themself, it is not possible to prevent them from having inappropriate monologues in situations where they feel overwhelmed. However, it should mean that they are aware of their inner monologues and can identify them at an early stage so that they can counteract them accordingly with more suitable monologues. In general, it is also more important for athletes to raise their awareness of their inner monologues than to define specific contents of the monologues. On the one hand, monologues can be very personalised and, on the other hand, they can also change depending on the situation.

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