Overcoming negative self-talk when you underperform

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Every player has their ‘ups’ and ‘downs’ throughout their career. On a rational level, everyone knows that you can’t always win. Sometimes you have bad days even though you feel fully prepared and confident. Yet when underperformance occurs, on an emotional level, we seem to lose control, and we get stuck in limbo. When this happens, we have to go back to basics and regain control. Your thoughts become intentions and your intentions become your actions. Your actions form your habits and your habits shape your behavior. It’s simple as that and professional players know it well. Yet the difference between knowing and doing is tremendous. It’s impossible not to have any reactions when a negative event in your life occurs. Instead, you can choose how to react to these events. Here are five practical tips that would help you overcome negative self-talk in stressful situations and underperformance.

1. Monitor your thoughts

The first step of regaining control is observing. If negative self-talk becomes your basic response when you underperform or lose games it’s really hard to even notice it and stop for a minute to think about it. This simple initial step requires only monitoring your self-talk during the entire game and taking mental notes. At this point, you should observe your thoughts, without judging yourself. If you judge yourself you would only enter the self-negativity loop easier and it would be even harder to forgive yourself the mistakes you make.

2. Measure your thoughts

The second step of regaining control is measuring. You now know and observe which certain negative thoughts occur in your mind when you experience unfavorable results. However, that’s not enough for your thinking to change. You have to know exactly what you are dealing with. In order to measure your thoughts, you should start to note their frequency and intensity. Ask yourself these two questions: Do these thoughts occur only in certain negative situations, or they have become a part of your thinking even before something negative happens? /frequency/; Do you hear yourself calling the same phrases and names or sometimes your negative thoughts get worse? /intensity/. Write down the event, the content of the thought, its frequency and its intensity.

3. Check for evidence

Observing and measuring is a good start but the real work begins when you put the first two steps into context. Keep in mind that different people could experience the same situations differently. Before you proceed with any additional steps towards regaining control, you have to examine the evidence for your negative thoughts. When you or your team loses a game, the first thing a negative mind comes up with is thinking “I/we suck. We’ve practiced this a thousand times and now we made stupid mistakes. We don’t deserve to win” or something similar. And this response FEELS absolutely TRUE on an emotional level. Your ego is hurt, you feel embarrassed and angry. But are these thoughts true on a rational level? Remember that you “can’t always win and sometimes you have bad days even when you feel fully prepared”? So outside your current emotional experience, do these negative statements hold true? If not, you are one step closer to taking control over them and eliminate them in the future.

4. Replace negative thoughts with constructive statements

Now that you have the frequency and the intensity of your negative thoughts and the realization that they aren’t completely true it’s time to regain control. Some people try to apply different strategies. The most common thing I hear from gamers is that they try not to react at all or pretend that it’s not a big deal etc. This type of defensive thought mechanism could sometimes work, but only in a really short manner or as a last resort tool. The reason for this is that when you are fully invested in something / as you should be in gaming if you are a professional player/, you cannot disengage emotionally from your game and the results which follow. And that is perfectly okay because what you can do is to change the way you react. For example when you think that you or a teammate “sucks and does not deserve to win”, try replacing it with constructive statement like “Okay we lost this one, but that means we have something to improve”, or “We lost this situation, but the majority of the game is still ahead of us, and we will come back”. So next time when you experience a situation with unfavorable results, do a quick check-up of your negative thoughts in these four steps – observe, measure, check for evidence, replace. It sounds easier said than done and it requires a lot of patience, self-forgiveness and practice but it is achievable and definitely worth the work.

5. Follow up with self-improvement, support your teammates

Finally, what you want to do is to make this routine your habit. Keep in mind that this is not a “quick fix guide for temporary solutions”. It is a process that requires a lot of practice and constant self-improvement. The good thing is that it could work for everybody on your team and you can share it and support your teammates when they lose their control, as well as to require the same from them for yourself. This way you will create a positive environment in your team which will produce a more positive and constructive atmosphere instead of one filled with negativism and self-doubt.

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About George
George Atanasov is a mental performance consultant, currently working in professional esports. He has experience consulting elite athletes and esports players. If you want to improve your mental game sign up for a free initial session with him by messaging at

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