Top achievers in every field understand that words have the power to condition the mind either to succeed or to fail. Whenever you say something, your mind tries to build a case for it. If you call yourself “stupid,” your mind does a subconscious “Google search” on the word stupid and pulls up a list of every stupid thing you’ve ever done. Armed with that list, you now have proof that you are stupid and you start acting that way.

Call yourself a winner, and your mind pulls up all your winning moments. And you start acting like a winner.

If you are not getting the results you want in life, you can probably trace this back to your self-talk. What you say to yourself affects what you think. What you think influences what you do. What you do all the time becomes your habits, which in turn determine your results and ultimately your destiny.

In addition to watching your self-talk, be careful with whom you associate. You don’t want to get any second-hand negative talk from the people you hang around with.

The Danger of Negative Self-Talk

At the Olympic Training Center, we don’t tolerate anyone bad-mouthing themselves. We want to create an environment conducive to achieving peak performance—an atmosphere where success is in the air. If a coach catches you bad-mouthing yourself, it’s pushups time. (Why do you think Olympic athletes are in such great shape?)

My worst luge crash ever was a result of negative self-talk.

One year before the Salt Lake City Olympics, we were in St. Moritz, Switzerland training for a world cup race. We practiced in the morning while the Italians practiced in the afternoon. At the time, the Italians were the best. One afternoon, I went to the track to watch them train. I wanted to learn from the best.

I went to the fastest point of the track, curve thirteen. Watching the Italians rocket down the track at over eighty-five miles per hour was unbelievable. Every time an Italian luger went by I would mutter to myself, “I can’t do that.” Another luge would barrel down the track and I’d say to myself, “I can’t do that.” For two hours, I said it over and over.

Up to that day, I had not had any major problems at that track. I was just looking for a way to take my abilities to the next level.

The next day, on my first run, as I reached curve thirteen, my mind reminded me, “That’s right, Ruben, you can’t do that!” And I froze, forgot to steer and had a horrible crash. I broke my foot, my hand, and totaled my sled. End of season.

That was the lowest point of my luge career. I didn’t know if I would make it to the Olympics. I was hurt and I could not afford another sled, all because of a few hours of negative self-talk.

Find a Way

I had a pity party for a couple of days, but eventually, flying back home from Europe, I got my head straight. Halfway over the Atlantic I took out a piece of paper and wrote, “This has been the worst year of my life—the most stressful and frustrating. I am being tested; I will pass the test. I have an opportunity to make an incredible comeback and show what I’m made of.” Then, I started saying to myself, “There is always a way. There is always a way. I will find a way, because there is always a way.”

Repeating the phrase “There is always a way” over and over when you are facing obstacles puts your mind in a solution-oriented state. It helps you shift your focus away from the problem and to finding a solution.

And a solution I found. I could not afford to buy another sled, but maybe I could borrow a sled. I started calling some of my best luge buddies and my good friend Adam Cook of the New Zealand Luge Team loaned me his sled to qualify and race in the Salt Lake Olympics.

Recover Quickly

Next time you experience a major setback, do what top achievers do: recover quickly. Bouncing back is not enough; winners bounce back quickly. They take their hit and experience their setback, then focus on a speedy recovery.

Right away, they force themselves to look at the bright side of things—any bright side. They say to themselves, “That’s okay. There is always a way. I will find a way.” They dust themselves off and pick up where they left off.

The reason a quick recovery is so important is that you don’t want to lose your momentum and drive. Winners can’t afford the luxury of wallowing in their misery or playing the martyr. The moment you shift your focus from the dream to the struggle, you’re dead in the water. If you dwell in self-pity for any amount of time, you lose your mental edge and it will be harder to come back.

Winners always look for a solution; losers always look for an escape. Next time life knocks you down, make a decision to dig deep inside and find a solution. Talk, think and act like a winner. Get up quickly, take action and astound the world!

RUBEN GONZALEZ is a three-time Olympian, an award-winning
speaker and author of the book,
The Courage to Succeed.