Have you ever noticed that we are constantly talking to ourselves? Take a moment to think about your last workout and make a list of all of the things that went through your head. I guarantee that list could fill up this entire page! I typically have a wide range of things that run through my mind on my daily workouts! Topics tend to range from my daily to-do list, current problems I am dealing with, what I am going to have for breakfast when I’m done, how I am feeling and everything in between! All of this mental chatter is what sport psychologists call self-talk—basically what we say to ourselves. Much of what we say to ourselves during our workouts and throughout our day is no more than mindless jabbing or background noise. However, what we say to ourselves matters and can greatly impact our performance, so gaining awareness of our self-talk and using it to our advantage can improve our performance in big ways!The bottom line is that our thoughts drive our consequences. This is the bases of cognitive psychology and massive amounts of research shows that what we say to ourselves in the heat of the moments drives what we feel (our emotions) and what we do (our behaviors or actions). Therefore, if we want to feel confident or relaxed or motivated, we need to be talking to ourselves in a way that breed those emotions. Also, if we want our bodies to respond in a certain way then we need to be talking to ourselves in a way that direct our body to do so.
The research has determined that there are two categories of self-talk, motivational and instructional talk. Motivational self-talk refers to statements we say to ourselves that are focused on increasing effort, maintaining a positive attitude, managing anxiety or building confidence. Some examples of motivational self-talk include, “stay strong,” “You’ve got this,” “Just hold on.” Instructional self-talk is basically telling ourselves what we need to do by directing our focus to relevant cues, technical information or strategic choices. Some examples of instructional self-talk include, “eyes up, knees up,” “all the way through,” “pump your arms,” “surge.”
In general, research has found that utilizing a combination of personally meaningful instructional and motivational self-talk statements tends to work best. However, it is also important to point out that the effectiveness of the different types of self-talk is dependent on the type of task and the athlete’s experience level.
So, what are you saying to yourself as you go about your day and as you are performing in your sport? Is the way you are talking to yourself helping your performance and directing your attention to what’s most important or is it hindering your performance and distracting you from task relevant cues? The first step is awareness. You can start by paying attention to your internal dialogue and then begin to notice how what you are saying to yourself is impacting how you feel and what you do. Once you are aware, you can begin to take control of your self-talk and use it to your advantage to help with confidence, motivation and focus.
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