The Importance of (Neutral) Self-Talk

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What’s your typical reaction when you are presented with a new move?​

Is it like…​

“Duh, it looks impossible and too complicated for me. I can’t do it”?​

Or more like…​

“Well, I don’t know what’s going on and the move looks difficult, but let’s try and figure it out”?​

(Some of you may talk to yourself like “OK, I know exactly what’s going on, and I can think of 42 other variations using the same principles”. In that case, this email may not be for you.)​

If your reaction is more like the former and you tend to talk to yourself like that most of the time, hear me out.​

First of all, I think it’s common to react like this, especially when you are a BJJ beginner. Or when the technique in question is indeed more complicated than other typical BJJ techniques.​

I get this kind of reaction from my training partners often enough when we pair up and drill some moves together, for example. Their words may be different, but what they imply is that they feel they can’t do what they are supposed to do. Or they straight out apologize to me for being “bad.”​

Does this sound familiar to you?​

OK, here’s the thing:​

1. Everyone must start from somewhere. And when you have never done something, you are probably not good at doing it if you compare yourself with others who have been doing it for ages.​

2. But one of the main reasons why we practice BJJ or anything at all is to improve ourselves. So, simply acknowledge what you can and cannot do as well as what you know and don’t know with regard to the technique in question.​

3. On that note, change your self-talk from “I can’t do it” to “I haven’t done it before, and let’s practice it.” There’s no reason why you should feel bad about not knowing how to do something you had never done before, after all.​

4. And practice that technique!​

What I’m proposing here is to change negative self-talk to neutral self-talk. It’s neutral, because you simply observe what’s going on, ask yourself what you know about it, and make sure to avoid jumping to the “I can’t do it” conclusion without testing things out first.​

In relation to this, if you can’t seem to figure out how your new move works, instead of trying to come up with hundreds of reasons why you can’t do it, think about how you could make it work. You can get some help from your coach/es or senior training partners, too.​

I know this sounds too simple or like self-help BS, but if you think you can’t do something, you won’t practice it, and that means you won’t get better at doing it. If you think you can do it, however, you will practice it, and as a consequence, you will indeed be able to do it well. Whatever you believe, you are often right.​

Stop your negative self-talk and see things from a neutral perspective. That will help you improve your BJJ skills in the long run.