Negative thoughts, known as negative self-talk is probably the most common way to mess up your confidence and sabotage your performance. One really effective technique to move to more positive thinking is using what is known as the stop-clap technique. I thought it would be useful to explain how it works and how you can use it.

So, how can you stop negative thoughts with the STOP-CLAP technique? You can follow these steps, which are explained in more detail, later in the article:

  1. Learn to spot negative thoughts and self-talk so that you can take action as soon as it happens;
  2. Stop, clap and visualise a big red STOP sign to disrupt your thinking and clear your mind’;
  3. Think of your winning image – an image of your successful self that you have prepared and practiced earlier;
  4. Think through a list of positive, helpful thoughts that you have prepared earlier;
  5. Move on towards your goal with positive thinking for success.

These steps are the basic things you need to do that will stop your negative self-talk, you need to do a bit of preparatory work so that you are ready to react and change to positive thinking and you need to practice to learn and reinforce the skills, just like any skill.

Negative self-talk

Negative self-talk is telling yourself negative and unhelpful things, having a stream of unhelpful thoughts and feelings that at best can be upsetting and uncomfortable and at worst, so debilitating that you just can’t bring yourself to take part in your event and you go home, probably berating yourself even more vigorously afterwards when you can do nothing about it. It is probably the most common way that people sabotage their performances and therefore don’t perform to their potential.

Examples of negative self-talk are:

  • I haven’t trained enough;
  • I am not fit enough;
  • Everyone else looks fitter than me;
  • I am no good at this and may as well give up;
  • This is a stupid thing to be doing anyway;
  • My equipment is rubbish and/or not maintained.

I am sure you get the picture.

The fact is that some or all of these negative thoughts may be true or they may be fictitious, however, whether they are true or not is irrelevant once you get to the start line and all you are doing by giving in to these thoughts and feelings is letting yourself be overcome by negativity that if allowed to continue is likely to result in you not fulfilling your potential in the event you may have spent weeks, months or even years preparing for.

With practice, you can learn to stop or significantly reduce your negative thoughts and change to positive, helpful thoughts that will enhance your performance and help you achieve your potential.

You can follow the download a copy of the infographic by clicking on the image and downloading the file, so that you can print it out and use it to help you practice as well as keep a copy in your kit bag to remind you to use it.

Learn to spot negative thoughts and self-talk so that you can take action as soon as it happens

Our emotions often follow patterns and with practice, you can learn to spot when you are moving into the mode of negative self talk. The earlier you can do this the more effective the technique and the less time and energy you will waste reinforcing unhelpful feelings and patterns. You can get negative self-talk at any time, so as you go about your day to day life, start to spot the onset of negativity and each time, take a moment to examine the feelings and see if you can identify any triggers that you may be able to avoid in the future.

In particular, when you are doing your training and preparing for events, see when these thoughts typically occur so that you can be ready for them as well as learning to spot the associated feelings. If you make this a habit, you will be able to react automatically, reducing the negative thoughts bit by bit over time so that you may not need to go through the more formal conscious process of changing your thinking.

If you let yourself be overcome by negative thoughts and self-talk you may become embroiled in a downward, depressive spiral and find it very hard to become positive again, so spotting things quickly, so that you move on is doubly important.

Stop, clap and visualise a big red STOP sign to disrupt your thinking and clear your mind’

As soon as you notice that you are moving towards negative thinking, shout STOP! and clap or if you can’t clap (for instance if you are riding a bike), give yourself another signal that you have practiced. As you do this, visualise a big red stop sign or an image that works for you to tell yourself to stop the negative thoughts.

This process is designed to disrupt your thinking and the more shocking it is, the more effectively it will be able to disrupt your negative thoughts and create space for you to change your thinking to positive. Start practicing this process and perhaps test a few ways of doing it to develop something that works well for you. The process described will work for most people in most circumstances so there is no need to overthink things.

Think of your winning image – an image of your successful self

The next step is to quickly introduce a feeling of success, which you do by visualising an image of a successful outcome in your goal. It is really important to practice visualising this image and make it as vivid as possible.

Think of an image of yourself being successful, it can be anything you like, there is no right or wrong image, choose what works for you and practice visualising it. Spend some time imagining every aspect of it, using all your senses see it bright and powerful, hear the sounds that are going on as you achieve your goal, smell the smells, sense the things that might be touching your body and feel the emotions.

The more time you spend practicing and enjoying this, the more effective it will be. This practice will also make you feel happier, stronger, more motivated and more likely to succeed.

Once you have your winning image, practice bringing it into your mind in different circumstances so that you can quickly think of it and feel all the good, strong feelings under any circumstances.

You can now bring your winning image into mind immediately after the STOP-CLAP to stop your mind moving back to negative and start it moving towards positive.

Think through a list of positive, helpful thoughts that you have prepared earlier

After the STOP-CLAP and winning image, you need to move forward with positive, inspiring and helpful thoughts. For this to work, you need to prepare and practice these thoughts so that you aren’t spending time trying to think of things when you are in a potentially stressful situation.

Firstly, write a list of negative thoughts that form your negative self-talk, you can start this list and add to it over time as you think of new things. Negative thoughts pop into all our minds as we are emotional beings, so this will be an ongoing process as our mischievous mind thinks of new things to worry us.

Next, write a positive comment next to each negative thought. The positive comment should be something that you can use to refute the negative thought and reinforce positive. For example, if you have missed some training for whatever reason, you can say that you have trained as well as you can and can’t change things now so thinking negatively won’t help. You have worked hard to be at this event and you are going to do your best, thinking positively and knowing you will do your best will be the most effective thing to do and you will be happy with the outcome. This is quite long but you get the meaning, and if need be you can invoke the positive comment with a brief statement after practicing your positive thoughts.

Finally, go through your list of positives regularly so that you can easily bring the most important ones to mind, invoking positive feelings and therefore allowing you to move forward into a positive, success mindset.

Move on towards your goal with a positive mindset

You may need to use the STOP-CLAP technique more than once but don’t worry, it won’t lose its effect. In fact, the more you practice, the more effective it will be and the more you will develop the habit of positive thinking that will help you fulfil your potential and help you be more positive and happy in your day to day life.

Related questions?

What else can I do to help my thinking and performance? Preparation: thinking through what you want to achieve during each event and training session is a very effective way of getting the most out of yourself and getting the most benefit from the things you do.

How can I avoid getting stressed and scared of failure? Don’t get hung up on the outcome of any given event, accept that you are going to do your best to achieve your goals and accept the outcome with an open and enquiring mind. We have an article that describes how you can use process goals to avoid anxiety, that you might find useful. You can find it by clicking the link here.

John Hampshire
Post by John Hampshire
September 1, 2019