Language for Success: Creative Affirmations
(Excerpt from the book Your Performing Edge)
JoAnn Dahlkoetter, Ph.D.
Performance is 90% perception and 10% reality
Words can have tremendous power over our minds and, subsequently,
our athletic performance. It has been said: Performance is 90% perception
and 10% reality. Each of us is constantly engaging in our own internal
thought processing. We talk to ourselves and interpret each situation
based on our perception of what is going on around us. If this self-talk
is an accurate representation of reality, then we function quite
well. If our thoughts are irrational or exaggerated, then we may
become anxious or emotional, and performance is likely to decline.
Reconstructing Your Thoughts
Thoughts and attitudes are cognitive in nature. Our perception and
thoughts often lead to an emotional response. These thoughts and
emotions then provide the direction and control over our actions.
Thus it is crucial to become aware of what thoughts and self-statements
you are using prior to training or racing.
Self-talk can provide a sense of control if you learn to become
aware of self-statements and direct them in a positive manner. You
can, through self-talk, evaluate a potentially negative situation
as much less threatening once you have a sense of control over your
thought processes. How you interpret what is happening and the kinds
of labels you place on each situation determine how you are affected
One powerful way to structure our thoughts and transform our goals
into results is through the use of affirmations. An affirmation
is a strong, positive self-statement, spoken in the present tense,
about a goal that has the potential for being realized. It is a
pre-planned statement of an aspiration, presented to the mind as
if it has already been achieved. You present it to the mind in the
present rather than the future tense. Although intellectually you
know your goal is in the future, successful mental programming dictates
that it be stated in the present tense as an already realized fact.
Affirmations are a powerful way to cancel or correct old negative
thoughts or ideas. Negative thoughts are carried in our mental computers
and are the source of self-limitation, fear, inhibition, and frustration
for all of us. In contrast, self-image, health, physical abilities,
relationships, and competition can all be affected positively by
the repetition of an affirmation.
A positive affirmation creates an attitude or posture in life that
says: "I can do this!" It is a conscious, carefully worded
positive statement that guides our behaviors in a constructive way.
It empowers us to replace old pessimistic scripts with new creative
phrases to help us realize our dreams. Words are effective tools
for transforming our perception of daily events.
The mind and body are so well connected that the body often does
not know whether a phrase or image is real, dreamed, or imagined.
So when your mind creates an image of success, your central nervous
system and whole body will process that image as if it were real.
Most of the time our actions are reflections of our mental pictures.
These pictures are placed in our mind most often by words. So choosing
the right words can make or break a performance.
I often use affirmations with my athlete clients to assist them
in reconstructing their thoughts. If athletes find themselves saying:
"Ive never been able to beat this person before in a
race," they are preparing themselves to lose again in this
situation. I would help them to say something like: "I know
I am capable of beating this person. All I have to do is take it
one mile at a time. I have to focus on what is happening and what
is about to happen. I can then control my own performance. I have
worked hard, and I am well prepared for this competition."
How are Affirmations Used
Whenever you want to maximize your chances of getting the results
you want, affirmations are one of the fastest ways to arrive there.
If you want to create real changes in the way you train and compete,
use affirmations to:
Relax and sleep well
Accelerate learning of athletic skills
Deal with fear and negativity
Heal quickly from injuries
Increase endurance and strength
Train faster and lighter
Guidelines for Using Affirmations
The subconscious mind is literal or factual in nature, just like
the hard drive of a computer. It receives information exactly the
way you present it. Thus, in using affirmations its best not
to use statements that are negative (e.g., "I hope I dont
bonk in this race"). If I say: "Dont think of pink
elephants," whats the first thing that pops into your
mind? You end up drilling into your mind the very thing youre
trying to avoid doing. Thus, affirmations need to be presented in
a specific way to optimize their effectiveness.
I was recently working with a bicycle racer, Jill, who had a fear
of riding in large groups. She had fallen down several times while
riding in a close pack and would get anxious whenever she got too
close to other riders. The problem intensified whenever she was
riding in a road race, having to make sharp turns in close quarters.
I asked Jill, what are you saying to yourself while youre
riding? She answered, "I repeat to myself over and over: I
hope I dont crash, I hope I dont crash." Can you
guess what happened after that? She was continually programming
her mind and body to anticipate crashing. Consequently, she was
bracing herself, holding her arms and shoulders so tightly that
she could not handle the bike effectively. I then taught her to
turn her goals into positive self-statements: "I am riding
the bike smoothly and easily." "I am growing more relaxed
with each mile." That was a turning point for Jills cycling
career. For the first time, she could really enjoy riding.
Principles to Follow in Constructing Affirmations
Use the present tense: Act as if its already happening. If
you have a race coming up, avoid using the future tense because
the mind will see it as if it were still in the future. Instead
of saying, "I will be strong and fast," say, "I am
strong and fast." Or you can say, "I am becoming stronger
and faster every day."
Employ a positive outlook: When you use negative words, they may
be taken in by the brain without your awareness. Affirm what you
do want to happen rather than what you dont want to occur.
Rather than saying, "I wont tighten up in races,"
say "I remain relaxed and focused at all times."
Use self-image statements: Whenever possible, construct affirmations
beginning with "I" or "I am
" or "I
Use specific, brief phrases: Make each phrase a short, clear statement
of your feelings, so that you can remember the phrase, and the mind
can then take it in more easily.
Make them permanent: Use the words "I always
Use mood words: Include words that suggest strong, positive emotion:
"I always get excited and enthusiastic at races."
Anticipate success: When creating your affirmations, dont
let your critical side limit the type of phrases you create. Use
whatever thoughts seem to work for you.
Use cards or post-its: Write each affirmation on an individual index
card or post-it, and place them where you can view them regularly
- by your desk, refrigerator, or at a night stand.
JoAnn Dahlkoetter, Ph.D., best-selling author of YOUR PERFORMING
EDGE, is an internationally recognized sports psychologist, past
winner of the San Francisco Marathon and 2nd in the Hawaii Ironman
Triathlon. For your FREE NEWSLETTER with valuable TRAINING TIPS
and helpful articles, or for your AUTOGRAPHED BOOK, click YOUR
PERFORMING EDGE: www.YourPerformingEdge.com.
Dr. Dahlkoetter provides coaching by phone for optimal mind-body
performance. For information, Email firstname.lastname@example.org,
or call 650-654-5500.