A Change In Approach: Rephrasing Negative Self-Talk

Lani Pallister

A Change In Approach: Rephrasing Negative Self-Talk

When swimmers look at tough sets or competition as a challenge, and not a threat, they perform better.

When they are excited to race, and not fearful to step up on the block, they swim faster.

So naturally, when a swimmer understands that practice is an opportunity to pursue the sport they love, and it’s not something they have to do, they train better.

Trust me, I know our sport can be tough, even grueling at times.

But mental toughness is all in the semantics.

And building that mental fortitude starts by changing the way we think about training.

Replacing “I Have To” With “I Get To”

When you say that you have to do something, the connotation is clear: You don’t want to do it.

I have to do my chores because my mom said so, but I hate doing my chores. UGH.

But saying you have to do something attaches a certain kind of negativity to the activity that makes doing it nearly impossible. So why frame it that way? After all, you probably love swimming. You enjoy hanging out with your friends at the pool, getting in the water after a long day of school, and you especially love the feeling of fulfillment that crushing a hard set gives you. Why is it then your language tell a different story?

“I have to go to swim practice,” indicates that it is a burden to go every day. The phrase fails to point out the fact that you actually enjoy it.

While the negativity accompanying all the “I have to’s” can seem harmless, or like an insignificant linguistic choice, they have the potential to impact your mental approach to swimming.

Replacing your negative self-talk with “I get to” is a reminder that you have a choice, which can certainly be a motivating feeling. Often times, this motivation can translate into confidence in the pool.

Notice how the phrase “I get to” can make even the most mundane tasks appear more powerful:

 I get the opportunity to work on my dives and turns during practice.

I get to see what I’m capable of at the meet this weekend.

I get to work hard to succeed in the sport I love.


There will always be things that you are not going to want to do. Whether its early-morning practices, dryland to wrap up a long workout, or repeat 100s at race-pace, there will always be parts of swimming that make it tough.

After all, training is hard. Competition is hard. And staying mentally tough is the hardest.

But that does not mean we need to make it harder by inflicting our self-talk with the negatives that accompany I have to.

So, I challenge you to try using rephrasing those negative thoughts with I get to when things get hard this week, because they will.

Doing so has the power to transform your self-talk, and strengthen your mental toughness.

Both of which can make you unstoppable in the pool.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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Jean Brownstead
Jean Brownstead
1 year ago

Love this! Thanks for posting.

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