In this ongoing series I want to examine tools and strategies to deal with fear and other emotions in Parkour and movement practice. In part 1 I gave a brief introduction into the emotion of fear. In this part I’ll try to show why positive self talk is not an effective tool in managing emotion and what implications this has. After answering what fear is I turn to the question of how do I know what to do and when?
The limited Effects of positive self talk
To illustrate the importance if indication (knowing when to do what) let’s start with an example.
Positive self talk is a big topic in the self help literature and performance psychology. It aims at improving the dialogue you are having with yourself. Indeed some studies show the positive effect of a positive inner dialogue on athletic performance. Systematic reviews however don’t show a significant impact.
This makes a lot of sense in the light of how our brain works. Emotions like fear are organised within the limbic system (for a thorough explanation check out part 1). This system is only very lightly connected to the prefrontal cortex, where more rational and higher cognitive functions are organised. Logical or rational thoughts like self talk have hardly any influence over our emotions, based on a purely anatomical reason. To talk down strong emotions might even lead to the opposite effect like disappointment or frustration.
Positive self talk can be a very efficient tool in situations where we still have good control over our emotions. Then it can be used to optimize performance or avoid negative or judgmental self talk. Cognitive tools like this can help us to not become afraid in the first place but will not be very efficient in calming the nervous system down once we are paralyzed by fear. This raises the question when do we use cognitive interventions and what other types exist?
Assessment & Indication for Fear Interventions
Before we look at indication we need to categorize the interventions we have at our disposal. Some tools can be used to prepare for something scary to prevent a fear reaction at all., others are in acute situation to create resilience or calm the nervous system. I very roughly break these down into:
- Overall physical preparedness and competence (skill)
- Cognitive interventions (motivation, visualization)
- Mindfulness interventions (awareness)
- Embodied interventions (height exposure, tapping, breathing techniques)
Each of these will be most affective at a certain level of fear. To asses this level of fear I find Marcello Pallozos perceived fear scale very helpful.
A higher level of fear corresponds to a lower degree a capacity to take action (Handlungsfähigkeit). The more we move up the scale the more our mental and physical capacities will deteriorate. This scale can be useful in a number of ways:
- Indicate when to do what. The scale gives you a good indication when an intervention is the most appropriate and effective. We will explore this more deeply in later posts.
- Describe your fear. It gives a better grasp of the experience and can sometimes already improve the situation. Descripition is already an intervention.I would advice to differentiate between describing, explaining, and evaluating the feeling. Stick to describing and refrain from explaining or evaluating the feeling.
- Plan a session. If it’s used honestly it can give you a good indicator of when you are ready to perform a jump. I advise people to not just supress their fear and go for a jump but to gradually get to a lower level and then go for it. I find this to be the most sustainable approach.
 Tod, D.A., Thatcher, R., McGuigan, M., & Thatcher, J. (2009). Effects of instructional and motivational self-talk on the vertical jump. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 23, 196–202.
Vargas-Tonsing, T.M., Myers, N.D., & Feltz, D.L. (2004). Coaches’ and athletes’ perceptions of efficacy-enhancing techniques. The Sport Psychologist, 18, 397–414.
Wang, L., Huddleston, S., & Peng, L. (2003). Psychological skill use by Chinese swimmers. Internatonal Sports Journal, 7, 48–55.
 Tod, D.A., Hardy, J., Oliver, E. (2011) Effects of Self-Talk: A Systematic Review, Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 2011, 33, 666-687.
 LeDoux 2015 Anxious: Using the Brain to Understand and Treat Fear and Anxiety. p. 275