(cross-posted in Pittsburgh Post Gazette Wellness Blog)
What is self-talk? Let’s start with a definition: self-talk is simply what you say to yourself in your head (covert self-talk) – or out loud (overt self-talk). Through these statements, we interpret feelings and perceptions, motivate ourselves, regulate emotions, and give ourselves instructions and feedback.
Meta-analyses indicate that the best type of self-talk is situation-dependent. “Instructional” self-talk is of greatest benefit for tasks that require motor control or are heavily based on technique; even more so when fine control is required (e.g. golf) versus gross motor control (e.g. cycling). On the other hand, “motivational” self-talk is most helpful for situations requiring endurance and/or strength – psyching yourself up and boosting confidence. For example, in a task requiring precision (throwing to hit a target), water polo players performed better when using instructional self-talk; but in a task requiring power (throwing for distance), players improved their performance most with motivational self-talk (Hatzigeorgiadis et al. 2004).
So how does self-talk work? Possibly by affecting your attentional focus – positive or instructional self-statements block out the thoughts that would otherwise interfere with performance. Self-talk is also thought to influence perception – of your physical and mental state, of the environmental factors around you – as well as how your brain processes this information; these things together lead to better decision-making and thus better performance. Finally, motivational self-talk likely increases self-efficacy, or your belief in your own ability.
Paying attention to and monitoring your internal monologue may not come naturally to you, but think of it as a free performance-boost. Add these tricks to your mental toolbox:
· Start by simply increasing your awareness and attention: what kind of self-statements are you using? What’s helpful and not-so-helpful? What kind of situation are you in when you’re using these statements?
· Reframe negative self-talk: replace statements like “I’m so tired, I’m never going to finish”, with “I may not be feeling my best right now, but I’m still moving towards my goal”
· Identify external factors that influence your self-talk: are there particular people, situations, weather or terrain conditions that trigger your internal monologue?
· Write it down and read it out loud: Saying it out loud (overt self-talk) – research suggests that saying it out loud (overt self talk) may increase the efficacy of your self-statements, as it holds your performance up to public standards rather than just self-standards – whether or not anyone actually hears you!
· Use cue words for specific situations: With repetition, the aim is to automatically trigger the behaviors you want. They can also help you break down more complex tasks into manageable chunks.
· Practice your self-talk and be consistent!