“ARE YOU CRYING? There’s no crying! THERE’S NO CRYING IN BASEBALL!” ~Jimmy Dugan, A League of Their Own
With the start of the Olympic Games this week, our attention turns to the athletes who will dazzle us with their physical skill and mental toughness. Among those who will be looking to win a spot on the podium is Mirai Nagasu, a 16-year-old American figure skater whose emotional state has received almost as much attention as her skating.
A January 23rd article in The New York Times described Nagasu’s battle of egos, between “good Mirai” and “evil Mirai.” Part of it stems from her youthful age; puberty is tough on everyone, even (especially!) world-class athletes. The battle also comes from the pressure of success. Her self-esteem issues are obvious from this quote: “There are always moments when I think about leaving skating, but then I think about that I’m not very smart and I’m not very pretty and there’s nothing else that stands out about me besides my skating.”
There are cultural influences from a strict upbringing that have carried over into her professional life, creating a harsh internal critic. The critical voice extends to her coach; after finishing first in the short program of a major event, Nagasu broke down sobbing. Her coach, Frank Carroll recalled her reaction: “Oh my dear, I’m first? I don’t want to be first. I don’t want to be first.” He told her she could not handle living up to the expectations of being on top. In the free skate, she stumbled and finished fifth. Carroll then instituted a “no crying” rule (sound familiar!?).
The NYT article shares a quote from fellow skater and reigning world champion Evan Lysacek: “I tell her how great she is, that she is more special than anyone else in this country, and she just keeps saying that she’s terrible. She has that ‘it’ factor. She just has to believe it, too.”
It puts things into perspective to realize that even Olympic athletes suffer from bouts of self-doubt and destructive thinking. What helps them move through it? I can’t speak for Nagasu, but I can share a few helpful tips that have worked for me and my clients:
The first step is becoming aware of your language habits in your self-talk (ie “chatter”) as well as in conversation. Key negative self-talk words include: always, never, should, have to, don’t, can’t, if/then, I’m not, I’m too, afraid, difficult, hate, worry, bad.
As you gradually become more aware of these words, make a choice to notice them with as much compassion and detachment as possible. Write down the thoughts, say them out loud or do whatever helps to bring them into focus for you.
Now that you’ve noticed the thought, get curious about where the thought came from and what you can do with it. The idea is not to push the thought out of your mind; it’s to spend a moment challenging the thought so you can get to the truth (otherwise, the chatter will keep visiting). Some questions to ask: What’s really true? What evidence do I have? Where does this thought come from? What choice do I have, in this moment?
Your curiosity has led you to a more grounded truth. You see the thought for what it is: an idea that is completely within your control. You now have the choice to reframe that idea into an empowering thought, one that moves you into a more positive space. Words that help with reframing: I choose, I am, I know, I want, I create.
Congratulations! You have begun the process of transforming your relationship with disempowering chatter. Remember: this is not a “flip a switch” solution. It’s a life-long process of awareness, observation, curiosity and reframing that will gradually bring more peace and alignment into your life.
Along the way to more empowering thinking, you are sure to experience the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Simply recognize that it’s all part of the training that leads you up to your place on the winner’s podium.