By Abby Seitz, US Marine Corps
What happens when self-talk and mindset limit performance? We call it, “going internal”. Everyone does it and it’s something we fight against as Marines. It takes self-awareness to know you’re doing it, and good leadership to recognize it in others. As an officer, you will need to be able to identify it in your Marines, but first you’ll need to manage it within yourself.
Loosely explained, going internal means focusing on how miserable you are, thinking you are the worst one and everyone has it better than you. Basically, you can’t get out of your own head. It is a process of indulging thoughts and self-talk that work against your best interest and hinder your performance.
Lingering on the internal can make high performance behaviors harder. Here are a few key manifestations we keep our eyes open for.
- Negative Thoughts: You can name what’s wrong without lingering there. This includes the inability to see humor, the silver lining, the overall value, or understand the purpose of what you are doing.
- Lost Motivation: Losing the drive to perform the task to the best of your ability. It usually sounds like “This is stupid. There’s no point. I quit.” Don’t let self talk makes hard things harder.
- Physical exhaustion and failure: Your mental state has a direct effect on your physical state. When you can normally curl 45 pounds 3×10 in the gym, but the 8 pound rifle is suddenly too heavy. Or you hike 14-ers on the weekends, but now you’re having trouble with the 5k hike. If all you can focus on is the pain in your body, you might have gone internal, and it might be limiting your performance.
- Self Pity: This might be the most dangerous of them all. When you think you’re the only one that his struggling, and it’s easy for everyone else, and no one has to deal with what you’re dealing with. Don’t allow yourself to be a victim of your circumstances., it’s the surest way to stay there.
If you have identified an internal state that is limiting your external outcomes, try these approaches.
- Preparation: Improve by 1% every day. No one will ever be perfect. But pushing yourself in the gym, studying for 10 more minutes before bed, asking your OSO and OSA for advice, all adds up down the road. “Bleed in training, sweat in war” is the mantra. Preparation builds confidence, improves self-talk, and allows for high performance.
- Go External: Look for something concrete outside of you. Maybe a person? Find someone you can help. Be a cheerleader. Widen your field of vision. It depends on your situation, but something as simple as patting another candidate on the back and saying “Come on, you got this. Let’s push together.” Can break your own mental hold. When you get focused on the 3 feet of dirt in front of you, look up to the sky and out to the horizon and remember there’s a whole world out there beyond your current situation.
- Take a deep breath: It sounds way too simple, but when we get anxious and stressed, our breathing gets short and shallow. Focusing for 10 seconds to take a deep breath, hold it, and let it out slowly can give you the reset you need
to keep going. Never overestimate something as simple as taking control of your own breathing.
You will go internal during OCS, TBS, and throughout your career. It is inevitable, but not fatal.