Spirit Defence Website

Spirit Defence Website
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Saturday, February 5, 2011

I killed my training partner

I once had a training partner who never missed a session. Whenever I was training, he was training. He was always with me. The problem was, he was super critical. Whenever I did a throw or a sweep or a kick or a punch he would always find something wrong with it. Even when the instructor was praising my efforts, my training partner would be critical: "You are slow", "That was worse than the last one", "Clumsy" "you'll never be able to do that" etc.

I tried talking to him and reasoning that his comments were not at all helpful. In the end nothing worked. I even asked him to stop coming to training - these were actually my sessions, after all.

In the end, I decided that he had to die. I made a plan to kill him. And I did it. He's dead now and I'm glad. I can't be arrested for this, you see, because no one will ever find the body.

He was my inner voice - my Self Talk. Super critical. Always there. And now he is dead. Sort of - he still turns up every now and again but never for the whole session and he mostly keeps his mouth shut. So to me he is as good as dead.

Why do so many of us have a negative "voice" in our heads that criticizes and finds fault with our thoughts, feelings and behaviours? It's like going out for lunch with friends and having a great conversation only to have someone ring you up afterward to tell you that you sounded really stupid and actually talked too much as well.

Imagine having a friend who spoke to you the way you speak to yourself! After years of torment, you would be justified in punching them in the face. Twice. So why, why, why do we do it to ourselves?

Research shows that ongoing negative feedback and criticism can result in people having lower work performance, scoring lower on IQ tests and having more psychological problems than others. When we do it to ourselves, it can become a self fulfilling prophesy. As a strategy for improving sporting and athletic performance, constantly giving negative feedback is one that would likely result in a deterioration of performance. Again, if your coach, instructor, teacher etc constantly told you that you are stupid and your technique is terrible, would you stay with them? I wouldn't.

Please note that I am not talking about negative feedback you might give someone if they make a mistake (although I can think of better ways). There have been times when instructors have used the term "terrible" to describe my efforts with a particular technique, but it wasn't a problem for me because it may have been accurate and their usual feedback was more constructive. There is a big difference between providing negative feedback that is constructive and negative feedback that is damaging.

If we accept the notion that ongoing, indiscriminant negative feedback can have a negative affect on performance, it seems crazy that so many people provide such feedback to themselves - especially when the feedback coming from others is overwhelmingly positive

Cognitive psychology is based on the notion that our thoughts can affect our feelings and behaviours. Changing the way one thinks, therefore, is an effective way to change one's feelings and behaviour.

An effective method for many is challenging negative self talk which simply means you assess and decide if it is realistic or not and then replace with with another, more positive statement. For example, a lot of negative self talk is in very absolute terms, eg "I'll never get the hang of this" or "I always make mistakes". Challenging such statements is just a matter of asking honestly if you, in fact, do always make mistakes or are there occasions where you don't. The statement is then reframed into a more reasonable one: "I am having trouble with this technique now but I know if I practice, I'll be able to do it one day". Reminding yourself that you also performed some aspects of the technique well is also a good start.

Like any habit, stopping negative self talk takes time and practice. Consider this: self defence begins in the mind and the toughest opponent you will ever face is yourself. Gaining control of your thoughts is therefore a form of self defence (I use the term self protection). Perhaps I'll call it Psycho-do!

If you are having a slump or your practice is plateauing, stop beating yourself up (even more martial imagery). Replacing negative self talk may just be the most effective way to improve your performance.

So do what I did: kill your training partner.


  1. Am so enjoying your blogs. They so feed into what I've been thinking. By the way, if I knew you and your training partner were participating in the lessons, I would have advised the De Jongs to charge you for two participants.

    I'm so intrigued by the third person concept. We are so more encouraging and supportive of other people, usually. But, we are so hard on ourselves. What if we thought of ourselves as our students? What if we thought about teaching and training ourselves in the context that we were our students? I think there is a lot to be said for the third person concept and seeing ourselves as our students. I saw a recent article about being our own body guards. Again, the third person concept. We are training ourselves to be out own body guards. What capabilities do we want our body guards to possess?

    Keep em coming.

  2. Excellent post! I think people's negative self talk creeps in when they set themselves too high a standard to achieve - you can just never succeed when you do that. How can anybody enjoy their training if they feel they are failing all the time? A good instructor should help students to make realistic targets for themselves, that way they can enjoy their successes rather than criticize themselves for their failure.

    Keep these blog posts coming, they are really interesting.

  3. Thanks so much John and Sue. Sue, I agree with you - many people have unrealistic expectations of themselves and they would never expect of others.

    John, your statement: "What if we thought about teaching and training ourselves in the context that we were our students?" is a very good point. I am reminded of the Buddhist idea that we need to treat ourselves and others with equal compassion.

  4. I wish I read this post years ago!

    I enjoyed reading your blog posts and look forward to future articles.

  5. I know how you feel Michele - I wish I had known this stuff years ago too! The post from Under the Bodhi Tree that I have just put up on Mindfulness fits well with this too.
    Thanks for your comment :-)