I was 18 years old and I had already been on the U.S. Ski Team for two years. I remember a sports psychologist talking to me about my tendency to engage in negative self-talk. (Self-talk is the mental conversation you have about yourself. Someone who has negative self-talk thinks things like, “that wasn’t good enough…you blew it again…they’re not going to believe in you anymore,” etc.) When the psychologist asked me to estimate what percentage of my thoughts were negative, I quickly answered, “maybe 60-70%.” I didn’t hesitate to answer because I sincerely thought that my propensity for negative thinking was completely normal. The psychologist raised his eyebrows. I soon learned that it wasn’t really that normal at all.
My negative thought patterns were strong. Because negative self-talk was one of the reasons why I could never settle for anything less than perfection, and my perfectionism was one of the reasons why I excelled at ski racing, my negative thought patterns had been—in essence—positively reinforced. It didn’t help that, at the time, I was completely unaware of the quality and content of the thoughts that flowed through my head. In order to improve my thoughts, I first had to be aware of what my thoughts were.
I came to the practice of mindfulness through the practice of yoga. The more I studied mindfulness, the more I realized that it was completely in line with the mental techniques that the sports psychologist had recommended: begin with unattached, nonjudgmental observation. Through yoga and meditation I started to sit back and watch—like a movie—the workings of my mind. As I began to deepen my awareness, I started to learn that, using observation as starting point, I could mindfully guide my thoughts to be more grounded in reality, and in turn, more positive.
It’s been twelve years since I realized that I was essentially bathing my brain in negativity, and while I can’t claim that I’ve eradicated my negative self-talk, I can say that I have literally rewired the circuitry of my brain. The practice of mindfulness—observing my habitual thought patterns, noticing without judgment when those thoughts are unhealthy or distorted from reality, and patiently guiding my thoughts to more accurately reflect what is—has completely changed the way I see myself and the way I see the world. After fourteen years of yoga and mindfulness, I see everything in a profoundly more positive light.
Motivated by my desire to help girls have less mental boxing matches and more positivity, I recently started a program called Z Girls. Through fun camps and supportive coaching, Z Girls empowers 11-14 year old female athletes with tools to thrive in sports and thrive in life. The unique Z Girls curriculum (http://gozgirls.com/index.php/about/curriculum) uses mindfulness and positive self-talk as a foundation to teach mental skills and awareness around goal-setting, self-confidence, positive body image, communication, and healthy nutrition habits. By empowering girls with confidence, courage, and community, Z Girls helps prepare girls to navigate the challenges of adolescence and ultimately to reach their full potential.
The process of quieting my negative self-talk has been a long journey of self-discovery. I am so grateful to have stumbled upon the benefits of mindfulness at a young age and the idea of passing on that gift to the next generation of young girls inspires me. What would the world look like if every young girl was completely free from negative thoughts, self-doubt, self-destructive behaviors, or societal and peer pressures—a world where every girl reaches her full potential? I don’t know, but I’m in it to find out.
Libby is an instructor at Be Luminous, a 2006 Olympian in Alpine Ski Racing, and the founder of Z Girls. To learn more about Z Girls or to register for a camp, go to www.gozgirls.com.