When I work with athletes, I teach them the power of their self-talk to direct their performance. For example, when I work with football players, I tell them that after they drop the ball, the worst thing they can do is return to the huddle affirming what they just did wrong: “I’ve got this problem. I’m dropping the ball.” If that’s the vivid picture they paint with their self-talk, the next time the situation arises, they’ll recreate the problem. They’ll keep dropping the ball, until they change the automatic pilot.

That’s how slumps occur in sports and in life. As you keep affirming the reality that you observe, you keep perpetuating it. What you tell yourself is what you picture, and what you picture is what you get: “I always strike out when it counts.” “She makes me sick,” “I never make the sale.” “We always lose.” “I can’t get the job.” ”I’ve always been poor.” It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy; you can predict an outcome with your self-talk, and then you make it happen.

If you keep affirming past mistakes, you’ll perpetuate them in the future. Instead, affirm what you want to achieve, what you intend to create. Replay in your mind only past successes, and tell yourself, “That’s like me. Next time, I intend to do it again.” Such thinking breeds greatness.

One of the real superstars of self-talk is Johnny Johnson, whom I first met when he played football for the University of Texas. Before every game, he would affirm his abilities and visualize intercepting a pass or returning a punt for a touchdown. In the big Texas-Arkansas game, the punter was kicking the ball either away from him or high and short into a strong wind. But Johnson kept telling himself, “The kicker is going to miss one, so be ready. It only takes one.” Finally in the fourth quarter of the tight ballgame, Johnny got his chance. . .and he returned the punt some 60 yards to set up the winning score.

self-talk image

You manage your self-image by managing your own self-talk. Control your self-talk, and you can change your self-image. Change your self-image, and you can change your life.

Eliminate from your own self-talk and your talk to others all destructive sarcasmall the devaluation, all the belittling, teasing, demeaning, fault-finding. As you start thinking better of yourself and others, you trigger the images you want.

Take personal responsibility for your thoughts. You are responsible for your own health and happiness. Don’t fix the blame for your difficulties on circumstances outside yourself, thinking “I have no control.” By managing your self-talk, you can became more confident in your ability to create your future. You can begin to feel, “Now I can see the way tomorrow looks. In fact, I can make tomorrow look the way I want!”

To change your circumstances outside, you have to change inside first. You are immersed in two realities internal and external. If you change one, you can change the other. Everyone would like to change their external circumstances, but few know how to do it. Some may think that making more money will bring about the change they want, or driving a particular car, or wearing certain clothes, or marrying the right person. They’re wrong. The power doesn’t reside in money, material goods, or other people. The power is inside. All meaningful and lasting change starts on the inside first and works its way out.

But don’t think, “Oh well, my image is built. I’ve fixed it.” You’ve got to keep fixing it. This is a continuous improvement process. The information you sanction affects your perception of reality. Once you lock on, assimilate, or believe that “this is the way the world is,” you don’t let yourself perceive other options or other information that does not match what you already believe. You’re stuck. That’s why groups get stuck. Nations get stuck. Religious groups become prejudiced. It causes bitterness, hostility, death, despair. They don’t know they’re doing it, they just think: “It’s the truth; it’s the way the world is.”

Your self-image is so powerful that it controls not only what you presently are but also what you will be in the future. It controls how much of your potential you will use. We won’t know how much potential we have, nor what we can achieve, until we remove our self-imposed limitations.

We may also need to stop listening to well-meaning people who tell us: “Be happy with what you have, dear. That’s good enough for you. If you start expecting things you don’t have, it will only make you sick. It’s because I love you that I tell you this. If I didn’t care, you’d go out and bite off things that are too big for you. I know you. You should be satisfied with stale bread, holes in your shoes, just like me. If you start wanting things on the other side, it will only make you unhappy. So, why don’t you just be happy, and not dissatisfied. Be happy with your lot in life. That’s good enough for you.”

If you buy into such advice from parents, teachers, spouses, coaches or counselors who mean well, you will make sure that the size and scope of your goals where you allow yourself to go will be close to what you’re already doing.

Fortunately, your self-image is not fixed. If you aren’t satisfied with your life, if you aren’t happy with how you think or feel or behave, you have an option. You can change your self-image. To be the happy, successful, high performance person you’re capable of being, you’ll need to use smart talk regularly to boost your self-image and self-esteem.

During the next 24 hours, monitor your self-talk and try to eliminate all the put-downs, hostility, cynicism, devaluation, and belittling of yourself and others. Avoid negative affirmations, such as “What’s the matter with me, anyway” or “How could I be so stupid?” Don’t allow teasing or sarcasm, even in jest. The subconscious mind doesn’t know a joke from a literal put-down. If you put yourself or somebody else down, you must immediately correct by silently affirming, “That’s not like me.” Then state what you’ll do the next time the situation occurs.

This may be the quietest 24 hours you’ve ever spent in your life. What will you say? Well, positively affirm others. Positively affirm yourself. Tell yourself what you’re doing right. Do this very quietly to yourself but out loud to others.

Score each positive put-up and negative put-down about yourself or someone else. After 24 hours, you’ll be more aware of your self-talk cycle. Start using smart talk to release the inner you.