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Thought Stopping Methods

You’ve bowled quite well in the first five frames against a tough opponent. The match is dead even. Leading off the sixth frame, the other bowler throws a Brooklyn strike. You’re in the pocket, but leave a ringing 10. You say to yourself, “Why don’t I get the breaks?” The spare shot misses. As your stomach knots up, your inner voice says, “Oh no, here we go again. Don’t choke.”
Because you keep a self-talk log and know your own tendencies, you quickly recognize the negative self-talk. What do you do next? A technique we recommend for quickly and effectively controlling negative self-talk as well as negative images is thought stopping. Let’s see how it works.
We suggest four thought stopping options:
1. Say the word “STOP” silently or envision another person saying this to you.
2. Visualize a stop sign.
3. Visualize a red light.
4. Combine the first option with either the second or third.

In order to learn which method works best for you, try the following exercise:
Sit back. Make yourself comfortable and close your eyes. After a few easy, relaxing deep breaths, think of an unpleasant situation – perhaps bowling-related or possibly being late to work or in a fender bender. Then say the word, “STOP” to yourself. Note the way this affects the negative thought. Now conjure up the same thought. This time visualize a stop sign. Observe how effective this is in erasing the thought. Then experience the negative thought yet again. Imagine a red light. Note the impact. Re-experience the negative thought one more time. Now say the word “STOP” to yourself as you see either a stop sign or red light. How does this affect the thought?
These four thought stoppers are by no means the only options. If envisioning a red flag, hearing a whistle, or any other sight or sound works for you as a brake on negative self-talk, use it. Once the negative self-talk is halted, take a few slow, deep breaths (diaphragmatic breathing technique is recommended), then immediately substitute positive self-talk and/or other positive thought content such as nature imagery or a visualization of your bowling with perfect form. In
addition to their own performance-enhancing qualities, these positive
thoughts can block the return of negative self-talk and imagery. For this
reason, such substitution is essential. An optional final step is briefly
recalling music for a calming effect or an inspiring lift. Then resume your
normal routine. If negative thoughts recur at any point, simply repeat the thought stopping process.
A thought stopping sequence, even if it consists of five steps (e.g. “STOP,” two relaxing breaths, imagery of pins flying, an affirming “I’ve got a great delivery,” and a blast of “Born to Run”) can be completed relatively fast. A common range is 15 to 30 seconds.
As with other mental game techniques, thought stopping must be automatic to be effective. To master it we recommend practicing the sequence you develop as follows: ten times each day for a week, then five times each day for a week, then once a day thereafter. The practice repetitions needn’t be consecutive. You can do them anywhere, even while walking around. Also, you don’t need a negative thought to practice. The immediate aim is a   seamless, effortless process. Effectiveness will follow. Also, visualize yourself using the technique when competing, followed by perfect form and a great shot. We generally suggest a week’s preparation of this type before applying the method on lane. Then, once you feel comfortable with it in practice sessions, you’re ready to use in competition.
Bowlers regularly tell us that thought stopping is one of their most useful
mental game skills. It is also a valuable life skill since negative thoughts can impede functioning and generate stress throughout the day.
A key to the effectiveness of thought stopping is its prompt use. That’s why it’s vital that you be aware of your tendencies (i.e., what situation tends to elicit negative self-talk).
This information is an excerpt from the book, “The Handbook of Bowling
Psychology” by Dr. Eric Lasser, Fred Borden, and Jeri Edwards.
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