How Negative Talk Can Improve Your Performance

Ben Bergeron is one of the most celebrated CrossFit coaches in the sport. He is known for his unique approach towards mindset in training, and coaches athletes such as Katrin Davidsdottir, Cole Sager and Amanda Barnhart.

In his podcast, Chasing Excellence, Bergeron recently talked about the hierarchy of mindset and how the story you tell yourself can impact your performance. He discusses how negative talk can give you an edge, when applied correctly. Find out more below.


Humans are hardwired to seek out comfort and follow the path of least resistance. We look for instant gratification and avoid adversity where possible.

Everybody, no matter how successful, has got limited willpower, and commitment is hard.

Yet people who are successful – in sport, in business, etc. – seek out the short-term discomfort. Why? Because they know they’ll come out as better individuals on the other side. They know that, if they endure the short-term discomfort (getting up instead of snoozing, saying no to that extra cookie) they’ll harness long-term gains.


Great athletes strive from competition. To them, competition is more than just wins and losses, but a necessary tool to help them become the best version of themselves. Without other people pushing the limits through competition, we would become complacent.

Competition can be bad if viewed from the wrong angle, it can lead to stress, low self-esteem and the certainty that others are better than you. But if viewed from the right angle, competition can be the reason you are your best self, and direct you into greatness.

This is what Bergeron refers to as “harnessing the dark side” and gaining power from it – turning stress into productive effort.


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A post shared by Katrín Tanja Davíðsdóttir (@katrintanja)


This is where the hierarchy of mindset comes in; how each individual reacts to each scenario they are presented with and their chances of success based on it.

  • The victim: they think obstacles are put in their way constantly and life is conspiring against them.
  • The pessimist: they see everything they have to face with a negative mindset, everything sucks and is terrible.
  • The optimist: they see the hand they’re dealt with as an opportunity.
  • The realist: for them, a thing is neither good nor bad, but thinking it is makes it so.
  • The curious competitor: this is the ultimate mindset, where people seek out challenges because they know on the other side they become something greater.

Curious competitors can manufacture stories (sometimes negative) because they know it will drive them through hardship. They know they can only find the best version of themselves by not becoming complacent and seeking out challenges, so they create scenarios to help them walk through the discomfort.

THE 80/20 RULE

It has been shown that swearing, screaming and kicking can give people an edge when dealing with pain and adversity. Swearing as a response to pain can increase pain threshold and tolerance by over 30%. But it has to be used as the extra.

People with a positive mindset perform better than people with a negative mindset.

When applied to a sporting context, you can improve your performance by, effectively, swearing or creating negative storylines, to push yourself that extra mile.

But you have to be careful; if you start out swearing you won’t last long. People who are motivated by external storylines tend to not make it far. It’s the intrinsic motivation, why you’re doing what you’re doing for yourself, that will keep you showing up and making the right choices that are in alignment with your goals.

It’s only the athletes whose intrinsic motivation encompasses the great majority of why they do things (around 80%) that are able to tap into this negative space (around 20% of their motivation) for the added edge.


Realise that there are two versions of yourself: the one that gets up when the alarm goes off and runs every morning, and the one who hits the snooze button and eats the whole packet of cookies. You are the one you see yourself as.

Reflect on the story you tell yourself. When your actions, decisions, behaviours and goals are in alignment with what you’re seeking, then negative storylines can give you that added, little edge.

Listen to the full podcast here:

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