Self Talk…What to Say?

Sweat is streaming down your face and your heart is pounding out the rhythm of your steps. You see only the dirt below you and it seems to keep going up, never ending. Your mouth goes dry and as you breathe out, your energy rolls down the mountain.

20140615_133344Do you want it bad enough? Is the pain too much? What do you say to yourself to get through the hardest of times?

Psychologists would call it self talk. I think more often than not the thoughts flow towards the negative. We don’t even realize this is happening and feel powerless to stop the destruction until we cover it with something positive.

I have been thinking about this subject in-depth as I head off to make a second attempt at completing Devil’s Path in the Catskills. 18,000 feet of elevation gain in 24 miles. My negative thoughts pound in my ears “What the hell are you thinking trying to do this hike again? These mountains chewed you up and spit you out. You can’t do it.”

But then my inner strength pipes up, sometimes in the form of my fiance, and says “You are going to crush it! You are different now, stronger, happier, and more capable then you were a year ago.” Unfortunately even when I am hiking with someone I still have to face each step by myself and conquer my own fears and doubts. That requires a conscious effort at positivity.

So what do I do?

I have three main tactics and a few helpers. One is to tell that doubting voice in my head to shut up and go away, it is not useful on the side of this mountain. The other two involve more tact. The first is the one-day at-a-time method and the second is the one-step-closer method. These are my names so don’t expect any doctor to sanction my craziness. But I have hiked a lot, sometimes alone and often with a great deal of weight on my back. These work for me and maybe they will help you figure out how to get yourself through the next hard section of trail.

The one-day-at-a-time method is pretty tried and true. You pick a spot up the trail, a prominent tree or rock, and give yourself permission to rest or have a drink of water only when you have hiked up to that spot. I have heard some people even allow themselves to entertain giving up at that point. Either way, it is a point of reevaluation, a small achievable goal. What happens after that doesn’t matter. When you get there you can usually talk yourself into just one more section.

The one-step-closer method is something I adopted after giving birth to Cap’n J. In birthing class they taught us to think of each contraction as one step closer to meeting our child. On a mountain or difficult trail, I think of every step or hill not only as one section closer to the summit, but also as one section that I never have to climb again. Each time I stop and realize what I have already hiked, I find a surprising amount of relief.

I have had many times where I have had to help friends get through a difficult time on the trail and my tact there is sometimes similar to my self talk and sometimes I allow myself to just be their cheerleader. Feel free to indulge in this for yourself too. We all need a little pep talk now and then.

I encourage myself to look around and spend time remembering why I am here. Closing my eyes and just smelling and listening brings me into the moment. I think about why I love this place even at its most challenging, have this clear in your head before you leave. It is easy to forget why hiking up a 4000 footer was a good vacation idea. For kids, games work as an easy way to remind them off this. Count the flowers or look for birds to identify, anything that keeps their minds or yours off the pain.

So I head off  to Devil’s Path, to face a great fear and to wonder if I fail again, how it will change me. I hope I am strong enough.

“Face your life, its pain, its pleasure, leave no path untaken.”
Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book

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4 thoughts on “Self Talk…What to Say?

  1. Linda Strickland

    And I’m sure this self talk follows you in every aspect of your life. Your hiking is a wonderful teacher!

    1. znara Post author

      Hiking has taught me so many things and brought so many wonderful people into my life. I can’t imagine living without it.

  2. Mark Cashman

    One technique I learned from climbing is to smile before the most frightening and difficult parts. I read a sports psychology article that talked about how it had the same effect as actually being happy in terms of lifting your mood. I used that to complete Charging Rhino – a climb I worked on for two years and spent the last six months on falling during the last 15 feet. It was so intimidating that I kept feeling doubt creep into me each time I was about to start. I did finally finish it with the help of that technique – and what a day that was.

    Another technique I found helped was to purge myself by griping. That meant to start by saying out loud all the things in the way of success – based on a set of lines from the movie “Wind” where one character says to another something I paraphrase as “It’s always something with you, the wind is too strong, the waves are too big, blah blah blah… sooner or later you just have to make up your mind and do something.”. So I would do the victim part of this and just let it out and then ratchet it up until it became absurd – and then I would laugh, it would be out, and I was free to do what I was there to do. That worked, too.

    It’s amazing to me how afraid we are to commit to success – because we are afraid to claim success and then fail – so we “protect” ourselves by not committing totally to success.

    Wrong thing to do. Great post, znara!

    1. znara Post author

      Those are great techniques! I recently listened to a podcast that talked about failure driving them to face what they had failed again and again. I had never met someone who thought that way. Failure usually leads us to more failure and eventually to not even bothering to try. I try to think differently about it now.

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