The Power of Self Talk

“Are we there yet?”


“How far?”

“Just around the corner.”

This was always the litany when we’d drive for vacation when I was a kid.  I’d sit in the back seat and lean forward between the passenger and driver’s seats, hanging on to the head-rests, swinging back and forth like a small, manic monkey.  Then I’d pop back to my fort that I’d made in the back seat.  The fort was an engineering feat mastered by an only child out of the bags, games and books that are the luggage of the family vacation. And fort real estate was smaller then, this was a VW bug.

The litany is playing in my head now, and I’m ask-answering for myself.

“Are we there yet?” I whisper.

“Almost,” I whisper back.  And then I giggle.

The giggle is the nervousness from the ever present fight between the doubts and self-deprecating humor of the past and the positive self-talk that I’ve learned the past two years.

Two years ago my coach, in probably his second email to me, sent me homework.  And it wasn’t on the bike.

“I want you to read these two books,” he wrote.

The titles had a strong odor of self-help. Ten Minute Toughness and In the Pursuit of Excellence.  I wrinkled my nose.

But Coach was pretty insistent,

“Positive self talk has enormous benefit! As we discussed on the phone last week, I feel strongly that our mindset must shift from survival mode (“I hope I can get to the finish”) to success mode (“My goal is ____ and here’s how I’m going to accomplish it!”). This is a long process, so I’m glad that we’re getting a jumpstart on this early!”

Up until then, I’d never heard of self-talk.  And after ten years as a professional apprentice in ballet followed by ten years of riding thoroughbreds, trying to be a jockey on the biggest tracks in the world, I had enough self doubt for ten five-foot-tall women, and my self-deprecating humor was armor of mythical proportions. I was the walking poster child for the person who was in desperate need of positive self-talk.

After I had read the books, in the first few months of coaching, my coach would come out to the Wednesday night short track races to watch me race.  That first year my stomach would still hurt before every race due to self induced stress.

“How do you feel?” Coach would ask at the start of each race.

I was sure the question was a test.  At first I would stare blankly, like the kid who can’t quite remember the right answer.  I’d want to joke and say something funny, make some kind of excuse for why I shouldn’t be there.  And then my eyes lit up.

“I, am Marvelous!” I replied.

Hah, I thought to myself, at least I’m still funny.  Sarcastic wit rules the day.

We’d repeat this routine at Wednesday night races through that summer and slowly the sarcasm became positive self-talk.  But it is a long process to undo self-doubt, and even now, two years later, it’s still a work in progress.

But, I can say without a doubt now, if you say something to yourself often enough, you do make it true.

So, now we are “just around the corner.” No, I’m not little anymore, and this isn’t family vacation.  I’m riding the Kokopelli in one day.  It’s a wonder-could. The giggle is due to my name being on a previous Kokopelli track leader’s board with #thequeenofpain.*    And I almost start to ask myself if I belong…. and the giggle stops the question.

“I’m marvelous, and I’m prepared”  I whisper. And I giggle again.

It can be a long process – but sometimes you just have to learn it for yourself like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.  But take my advice, if you have a daughter, or a son, start now, teach positive self-talk and he or she will always find his or her way. No Ruby slippers required.

Dorothy: Oh, will you help me? Can you help me?

Glinda: You don’t need to be helped any longer. You’ve always had the power to go back to Kansas.

Dorothy: I have?

Scarecrow: Then why didn’t you tell her before?

Glinda: Because she wouldn’t have believed me. She had to learn it for herself.

Please join me on my one day Kokopelli journey on Friday May 1, a 4 AM start — you can follow the ride at Track Leaders  and you can tweet to @cbkreativ #kokopelli

Thank you to Eszter Horyanyi, Linda Wallenfels and Rebecca Rusch for supplying the inspiration to do the Kokopelli Trail in one day  and for answering my questions. #heroines

*This is the board from Rebecca Rusch’s 2013 record setting ride. I’ve been added to the board for my own individual challenge May 1, 2015.