The Silver Rule: Speak to Ourselves the Way We Speak to Others


Mental Skills
By Andy Bass


We all have a constant internal monologue. The number of words and thoughts humans have per day can be as many as 80,000. And some researchers speculate that 80% of those thoughts are ‘negative.’ While this article is not meant to challenge or disagree with any of those numbers… what we should consider is the word ‘negative.’

When we think of self-talk (the constant internal monologue that goes on in our head throughout the day) we think of thoughts as being either ‘positive’ or ‘negative.’

“Coach, my self-talk is really negative today.”
“I really wish I had more positive self-talk out there.”
“I Need to get more positive thoughts than negative ones on the field.”

Thoughts are not ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ in the traditional sense. What does that mean? Player A may say to themselves at the plate after swinging at a pitch in the dirt, “You are better than this! Get your head out of you rear end and get going!”—and to Player A, that phrase is motivating and drives them.

Player B may say to themselves at the plate after swinging at a pitch in the dirt, “You are better than this… get your head out of your rear end and get going!” – and to Player B, that phrase may demoralize them and make things worse. It is all a matter of perspective and interpretation. This one phrase (You are better than this. Get your head out of your rear and get going) is open to interpretation and has different effects on both players. Thus, the phrase cannot, by definition, be considered ‘positive’ or ‘negative.’

Where do we go from here? How can we create a bandwidth for our own self-talk? For one, we can think of self-talk as either ‘beneficial’ (i.e., Player A) or ‘detrimental’ (i.e., Player B). Furthermore, what is the Golden Rule? The Golden Rule states “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If we flip this sentiment, and substitute the word ‘speak’ for do, we get the Silver Rule… “Speak unto ourselves the way we would speak to others.”

One way we can help our players determine what is ‘beneficial’ self-talk is to have them become aware to how they speak to their teammates. Perhaps Player A would be comfortable telling a teammate “You are better than that! Come on get your head out of your rear and play like you know you can!” in which case—that is the kind of self-talk that would be beneficial for them. Player B, alternatively, may not be comfortable saying that to a teammate. They may instead feel comfortable saying “It’s all good. You swung at that one and will get the next one.” THAT is the kind of self-talk that is beneficial for Player B.

Self-talk is messy. Our minds can go to some extreme places, especially in a sport like baseball or softball. One step we can take toward dialing in, and bringing awareness to, our self-talk is to ask, “would I ever speak this way to a teammate?” If the answer is yes—that is beneficial self-talk. If the answer is no—then we need to work to limit that from our minds.



Andy Bass is currently a Mental Performance Coordinator for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Bass played college baseball at Davidson College and was drafted in the 18th round of the 2011 MLB draft by the Tampa Bay Rays. He received his PhD in Sport Psychology and Motor Behavior from the University of Tennessee.