Feeling Down? This might be your problem

Running has always been a struggle for me. Throughout my life, I've dealt with scoliosis related injuries as well as some exercise induced asthma. Together, these obstacles make running a bit of challenge for me. Recently, I decided it was time to take on training for a marathon (with hopes of someday working my way to becoming an ultra runner). You may be asking, "Why?" My answer to that is I wanted a challenge. I wanted something that would force me to redefine my limits.

Well, I went for a run yesterday. If I were to describe that 4.35 mile stroll in one word, I'd probably chose...hellish. Let me tell you, I am not a runner (check my Strava)! In fact, I don't think I've ever ran more than 6 consecutive miles in my life. Everything was going fine until it wasn't. It started with calf and hip tightness around mile two. At this point I questioned my decision to go for a run after lifting legs a few hours earlier. After the tightness, my side started to cramp. Following that came full blown, teeth clenching quad cramps.

When I started cramping up, I had a few options. Here are a few:

  • Option 1: Take a chance

  • Option 2: Walk the rest or at least till the cramps subsided...nope

  • Option 3: Call someone to pick me up...too embarrassing

  • Option 4: toughen up and finish what I started...Bingo

I knew if I stopped they'd cramp even harder, so I only had one choice; keep going. During that last mile and a half, I relied heavily on self talk.

My inner monologue sounded something like this:

  • "You got this"

  • "Keep going"

  • "We're almost done"

  • "Finish what you started"

Mixed in with those were a few things like, "I'm SO tired!" and "Not even four miles? How pathetic!" I had to ignore those...

Even mentally strong people have negative self talk from time to time. What matters is that you're able to see fact from fiction and overcome it.

If we dwell on those negative thoughts, we'll find ourselves consumed by them and approaching a downward spiral of destructive thoughts. These destruct thoughts can become a negative thinking pattern if we're not careful. As someone who is highly critical of themselves, it is very easy for me to over critique into a negative thinking pattern. Over the last few years, I've discovered a solution for myself. Practicing positive self talk is my go to way to break negative thinking patterns.

I've found that reality is grossly determined by perspective. If we can shift our perspective on things, it can help us see things in a completely new light; maybe even one that is positive or beneficial. Use this in moderation as always seeking complete positivity can result in a delusion of reality. The goal of shifting perspective is not to create a new reality, but rather see it from a new point of view.

Identifying Negative Self Talk

While doing some research for my podcast, "Self Talk is Kind of a Big Deal...", I came across an article by Mayo Clinic. They highlight negative thinking patterns in four ways:

  • Filtering. You magnify the negative aspects of a situation and filter out all of the positive ones. For example, you had a great day at work. You completed your tasks ahead of time and were complimented for doing a speedy and thorough job. That evening, you focus only on your plan to do even more tasks and forget about the compliments you received.

  • Personalizing. When something bad occurs, you automatically blame yourself. For example, you hear that an evening out with friends is canceled, and you assume that the change in plans is because no one wanted to be around you.

  • Catastrophizing. You automatically anticipate the worst. The drive-through coffee shop gets your order wrong and you automatically think that the rest of your day will be a disaster.

  • Polarizing. You see things only as either good or bad. There is no middle ground. You feel that you have to be perfect or you're a total failure.

Over the course of my life, I've been guilty of every single one of these, especially Filtering and Polarizing. Today, these are no longer an issue for me as I've put in a lot of work and experimented to find ways to build positive thinking habits.

Building Positive Thinking Habits

You can learn to turn negative thinking into positive thinking. The process is simple, but it does take time and practice — you're creating a new habit, after all. Here are some ways to think and behave in a more positive and optimistic way:

  • Identify areas to change. If you want to become more optimistic and engage in more positive thinking, first identify areas of your life that you usually think negatively about, whether it's work, your daily commute or a relationship. You can start small by focusing on one area to approach in a more positive way.

  • Check yourself. Periodically during the day, stop and evaluate what you're thinking. If you find that your thoughts are mainly negative, try to find a way to put a positive spin on them.

  • Be open to humor. Give yourself permission to smile or laugh, especially during difficult times. Seek humor in everyday happenings. When you can laugh at life, you feel less stressed.

  • Follow a healthy lifestyle. Exercise can positively affect mood and reduce stress. Follow a healthy diet to fuel your mind and body. And learn techniques to manage stress.

  • Surround yourself with positive people. Make sure those in your life are positive, supportive people you can depend on to give helpful advice and feedback. Negative people may increase your stress level and make you doubt your ability to manage stress in healthy ways.

  • Practice positive self-talk. Start by following one simple rule: Don't say anything to yourself that you wouldn't say to anyone else. Be gentle and encouraging with yourself. If a negative thought enters your mind, evaluate it rationally and respond with affirmations of what is good about you. Think about things you're thankful for in your life.

Using Self Talk in the Real World

No one has bulletproof confidence or is always happy. We all get down from time to time. That's why it's so important to know how to practice positive self talk. Below, I've attatched a video of NFL players showcasing self talk.

You'll find that each player is their biggest cheerleader, but can also be their biggest antagonist. What separates these players in tough situations is how the respond to stress. Do they go down the downward spiral of negative thinking patterns or do they use positive self talk to reassure themselves? Depending on the answer to that question, you can pretty well determine who will play better in high intensity moments. This same tactic can be applied to the everyday person. I myself am no athlete, but I'm a testament of how positive self talk can improve your confidence, happiness, and self worth.

Now, I'm not going to sit here and tell you that all you need to do to be happy is to be kind to yourself and practice positivity because that's a complete load of BS. However, positive self talk is a tool to have on your utility belt. If anything, I hope you at least learned how to identify and be aware of negative self talk/thinking patterns within your own life.

Check out my podcast episode titled, "Self Talk is Kind of a Big Deal..." for more of my thoughts on self talk!