What jeering sports fans can teach you about your inner trash talk

by | Feb 9, 2022

Darcy Luoma is one of America’s most highly credentialed coaches. She’s worked in 48 industries, with more than 500 organizations, and has impacted tens of thousands of leaders and employees.

Have you ever engaged in trash talk? 

Don’t tell me you haven’t! I’ve seen you at football games shouting at the other team. You’re going down! You don’t even know how to throw the ball!

Sure, we all do that — it’s part of the fun

But what isn’t fun is when we start trash-talking ourselves. You know what I’m talking about. That inner voice that says: 

  • “You’re not good enough.”
  • “You’re going to embarrass yourself if you speak up in this meeting.”
  • “If you take this on, you’re gonna fail.”
  • “You don’t deserve this.”
  • “What will other people think?”
  • “Remember when you messed this up before? Don’t try it again.”

We all have this type of script running in our heads. I’m talking about the thoughts we’re thinking, but don’t say out loud. Some have a louder running script than others, but we all have thoughts that aren’t helpful.

Do you ever give abrasive feedback and then regret it afterward?
Here’s how one coaching client approached her issues with abrasiveness thoughtfully.


Darcy (00:02):
Do you like canned mushrooms? Maybe you’re like me, never had them before. Well, I was on a midway-sponsored session. I do coaching engagements that oftentimes the organization sponsors with an executive. We have a sponsor meeting at the beginning where we learn what the sponsor, who’s usually the person’s boss or manager, wants us to focus on in the coaching engagement and what outcomes they’re looking for and what success would look like. Oftentimes it’s 6 months, sometimes it’s 9 or 12 months.

Darcy (00:49):
At the halfway point, at the midway point, we do a sponsor meeting to check in on the primary focus areas for the coaching. It’s an opportunity for the client to share what progress that they have made on those primary focus areas and what they want to celebrate. And then also where they’re maybe struggling or have challenges or what they want to continue to work on for the second half of the coaching. We then turn it over to the sponsor, to both reflect on what they heard from the client, and then also to provide their update on how they feel the client is doing on their coaching plan. What progress they’re making. And also what they want us to continue to work on in the second half in the remainder of the coaching.

Darcy (01:42):
With this particular client, I’m going to just make up a name. I’ll say it’s Tammy. Tammy came in the coaching and she … well, her sponsor, I will call him Rick, Rick said, “Okay …” I already forgot what names I used, Tammy. “Tammy, you got to share that story that you told me this morning about Sue.” Tammy’s like, “You think I should share it with Darcy?” And he’s like, “Yes. It’s a perfect example of where you are at with the coaching.” Which was so fascinating because, normally I have to set the stage and say, “Here’s what we’re going to do.” They just jumped right in. So Tammy says, “Well, okay, here’s the deal. I have this person in my life, Sue, who is really abrasive and really harsh. And she gives super strong opinions. But I don’t think she realizes how harsh she comes across. I don’t think she understands that you shut down when she’s sharing her opinions. I think she just thinks she’s sharing her opinion.”

Darcy (03:05):
So I was telling Rick about a conversation I had with Sue that, she was opening up a can of mushrooms and I just said, “Oh, I don’t love canned mushroom. There’s something about the texture of them that isn’t right.” And that Sue said, “Well, you’re ridiculous. Canned mushrooms are fabulous. Mushrooms, they’re good. And canned mushrooms are fantastic.” And so Tammy was saying that this wasn’t a matter of debate, this was just a matter of opinion. And that Tammy had shared her opinion and Sue, she said, “I felt like Sue was telling me my opinion’s wrong. That it’s not okay that I don’t like canned mushrooms, and then I need to change.” And she said, “I just felt really just shut down and disrespected for my view.”

Darcy (04:07):
She told Rick that all of a sudden I had this aha. Oh, my God. That’s how my team feels about me. And she said, “Until that moment, I didn’t get it.” Rick had reached out to sponsor coaching for Tammy and said, “Tammy’s phenomenal. She is wicked smart. She knows her stuff. She’s a valued employee. And she tends to have really strong opinions that can shut down the other team members. And it’s hard to even describe what it is or what needs to change. I just know that it’s not a good dynamic.” And so Tammy had this huge aha that, “Wow. Do people feel like I felt when Sue was telling me about the canned mushrooms?” Tammy was saying, “Darcy, it was this huge aha.”

Darcy (05:21):
What the great news is, in this case, is that when I asked … Tammy shared the progress she’s made in the coaching. In this case, it’s a six month engagement, so we’re at three months. She said, “I still have strong opinions, but now I pause first to think about how I want to share those opinions instead of just ram-roading them and telling my opinion.” She said, “Because I just thought, I’ve got opinions and others have opinions and they’ll share. We’ll have this rigorous debate and everything’s fine.” She said, “It never dawned on me that how I was sharing was shutting other people down. And I think I’ve made some progress.” She said, “I have a long ways to go, and it’s hard, it’s exhausting.”

Darcy (06:08):
I turned it over to Robert to ask for his reflections on what she shared and what he feels. He’s like, “Yeah. I wanted her to share that because it was so great to see her aha. Because honestly, I’ve seen huge improvements in Tammy. Tremendous.” He said, “This is the best investment we could have ever made.” He said, “As a matter of fact, I never even thought we would get the results we are. Tammy is … I can see her in the moment really pausing before she jumps in. And sometimes, once in a while, she’ll be on autopilot and just … I don’t see it that way.” And he said, “I can see her in the moment, rolling back and saying, ‘Well, you know what, sorry. I don’t see it that way. And I’d love to hear more about your view. I have a different opinion that I’d like to share, but I really want to understand.'” And he said, “I’m watching this in real time, Darcy, and seeing her pivot in the moment, and it’s fabulous.”

Darcy (07:11):
I thought this was a great story to share with you for this Thoughtfully Fit Thursday, because it is a perfect example of engaging your core. Tammy has really worked hard to practice on pausing. She’s super-strong at the act. No problem acting. Her challenge is that sometimes she acts impulsively and overreacts. She’s worked really hard to pause, and to think, “How can I share my opinion in a way it can be heard? And then act.” And she said, “Darcy, I even now will specifically in a team meeting, resist the urge to share first. I would always share first.” She said, “Now I resist the urge to share first, and I specifically want others to go so that I can hear their opinions, and then I can integrate that in processing before I share my opinion, and I can adjust as needed to meet them where they are.”

Darcy (08:26):
So this stuff works. It really does. And it’s so simple. That’s my challenge to you in the core workout, is to pause. Maybe you’re good at the pausing. Maybe that’s not the place where you need to develop that mental muscle. Think. Ask yourself some thoughtful questions, and then act. That might be what’s harder for you, right? You think and think, and overthink, and get analysis paralysis and never quite pull the trigger to go have that conversation or to act in whatever it is that you need to do.

Darcy (09:07):
Good luck. Practice, practice, practice. Consistency. Just like you need to keep doing situps and crunches every day if you want to have a strong, inner, physical core, you need to be consistent in engaging your Thoughtfully Fit core. Thank you so much for joining me. If you felt inspired by this, share a story, write a comment, like it and share it with others. I love helping people be Thoughtfully Fit. As a matter of fact, that’s my vision. It’s my mission in the world is to help people be Thoughtfully Fit. So hopefully this story sparks some new awareness for you.

Even coaches aren’t immune to trash talk

It’s not possible to eliminate your trash talk altogether. It’s normal. I suffer from it too. 

One of my strongest trash-talking voices is so loud, and has been with me for so long, that I’ve even given her a name: Little Miss Perfect Pants. If she were to get her way, I would never:

  • Publish a book, because “You’re not a writer!”
  • Give a keynote speech, because “You’re not a professional speaker!”
  • Run a marathon, because “You’re going to lose that race!”
  • Start a business, because “You don’t have an MBA!”

Yes, even after five decades on this earth, these are still my first thoughts every time I try to do anything unknown or scary. 

These thoughts are natural. The key is not to try to stop them, but to reframe them thoughtfully. 

Let me explain.

How professional athletes deal with trash talk

The next time you’re at a football game and people start trash-talking your team, watch carefully the behavior of the athletes on the field. Chances are, they’re not running over and yelling at the opposing fans to make them stop. That wouldn’t be a good use of their energy!

In fact, they normally don’t show any external signs of anger whatsoever. They’ve trained to not let it affect them. One of the first things you learn as an elite athlete is how to tune out distractions so you can focus on what you need to do.

Some athletes even allow the negative energy from fans to motivate them to achieve greater heights. Over in Europe, Cristiano Ronaldo is famous for doing this in the soccer world. Tennis star Novak Djokovic has said openly that he loves it when the fans support the other player on the court. 

Why is this? Don’t athletes feel discouraged when crowds boo and jeer at them?

It’s because peak performers have learned the art of impulse control. When they hear that trash talk, either from someone else or from themselves, they consciously choose how to respond to it with Strength, as opposed to reacting on autopilot. 

In other words, they’re Thoughtfully Fit.

Putting Little Miss Perfect Pants in her place

Over time, I’ve learned to become more unreactive towards my own inner trash talk. 

I can’t stop thoughts like “You could never compete in a Master Swim Meet,” no more than professional athletes can prevent fans from hurling insults at them. But I can develop the inner Strength to not follow that thought by thinking how annoyed I am with myself for thinking in that way. 

Here are 3 questions that have helped me reframe my inner trash talk thoughtfully:

Is this thought serving me or sabotaging me? 

I can normally recognize Little Miss Perfect Pants pretty quickly these days (thanks to years of practice!).

What are my choices and what do I control?

I might not be able to win the gold medal at the Master Swim Meet, but I can ask my coach to help me practice flip turns and dive off the blocks beforehand. 

What is a realistic expectation? 

I can aim to sign up for a race that’s competitive for people of my ability. Swimming across the Atlantic might be a step too far.

Tackling your inner trash talk

Imagine your boss asks you to do a presentation at the next company meeting and, for whatever reason, your trash talk starts shouting: “NO! NO! You can’t do this. You’ll make a fool of yourself.”  If you respond immediately, based on what your trash talk is saying, there’s a good chance that the voices in your head will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Let me be real with you: I’ve spent 20 years studying this stuff and figuring out methods to help my clients clear the hurdles that get in the way of their own success. Very often, simply pausing to reflect before acting solves the problem! But it always has to be in that order: Pause, then Think, then Act. What’s crazy is how many of the people I work with say: “I’ve been doing it all backwards, Darcy! I act, then I pause and think, ooh I should’ve handled that differently.”

It all starts with your core

Impulse control doesn’t come easily. Just like if you want to build your physical core, you have to train and practice. Doing 20 sit-ups once a month isn’t enough! Only after consistent effort will your mental muscle be strong enough to resist that initial knee-jerk reaction. 

So I’m going to give you a one-minute core workout challenge you can do immediately to start training!

Pause: The next time you hear that inner trash talk telling yourself you can’t do something, take a short time-out.
Think: Is this thought serving or sabotaging you? What do you control and what are your choices in this situation? What can you realistically expect of yourself?
Act: Choose to proceed with intention based on this new awareness.

Thoughtfully Fit One-Minute Workout inside the Thoughtfully Fit Wheel


This week, we’re recommending Tiny Buddha as a way to incorporate simple mindfulness practices into your daily life. Former coaching client (and these days a member of the DLCC team!), Megan Cain, recently wrote an article for Tiny Buddha about a challenge Darcy had given her during coaching… check it out!