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What do Navy Seals, A Traffic Light and the Mental Game Have In Common?
The Navy Seals published a video and discussed the top four mental tools they teach people who want to make it through their grueling training. The four mental tools they discussed as important in managing high-pressure situations are:
- Goal setting
- Mental rehearsal (imagery)
- Positive thinking.
So, Who Cares About Positive Thinking?
Every person has a constant array of thoughts in their head throughout the day. In fact, some estimate we have 300 to 1000 thoughts per minute! Our thoughts are linked to our levels of stress or relaxation. This means we contribute to our own stress by the way we talk to ourselves. If we are in a difficult situation and we continue to think negative about it then the combination of these two things is the reason we often have such high stress. One good model for understanding the different types of thoughts we can have in the traffic light.
Pause for a moment. Think about a time when you had to listen to a friend who just had a difficult day. Maybe this person even cried. One likely way you helped was to say comforting words. This helps calm a person. Ultimately, each of us has to learn to do this with ourselves but it sure helps to hear it from others sometimes!
On the other hand, sometimes people say things that almost make you feel worse. I recall talking to a doctor when I was in college and telling her I was having a lot of stress and anxiety about classes and being away from home and I could not sleep. She said to me I just needed to deal with it and told me that I really did not have any reason to be stressed. I felt kind of stupid for having talked to her. I went away feeling worse and even told myself in my mind, “I must be kind of weak”. So I had my original stress, her comments, and then my own negative talk about myself. Needless to say, my stress remained high.
Think of the way you talk to yourself throughout the day like the above two examples. You can offer words of support to yourself in challenging situations or you can be negative with yourself. Telling myself I was weak really did not help me or my situation. I would label this red thinking. It kept me stuck.
But, if was able to talk with that doctor and find a solution or figure out how to take a different perspective of the situation, I might have moved through that anxiety faster or at a minimum began to manage it better so I could sleep. That would be green thinking and it would help me go forward or make a movement.
Athletes engage in all types of self-talk in their heads during practice, during competing and even in quiet time. Sometimes we think of self-advocating as talking up to someone else on our behalf. Well, sometimes we have to talk up to ourselves in our heads! Worry is not helpful unless it leads to action and this takes green thinking.
If we labeled our thoughts as red, yellow or green this is how we would be talking to ourselves in our head:
- Green Thoughts: These thoughts help us move forward or guide us through some actions to take. The talk inside our head would be “I can, I am getting stronger, or I am making progress and I will keep going”
- Red Thoughts: These thoughts keep us stressed or stuck. These might include things like: “I suck, I look stupid, everyone else is better, my teammates don’t like me.” Ultimately, red thoughts revolve around the thought that “I can’t.”
- Yellow Thoughts: These thoughts are more neutral, and can help get us to the green zone in our head. These thoughts might be more like: “keep going, just breathe, one step at a time.” There is not judging either way. These thoughts can even be instructive, like keep your head down (golf) or follow.