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Optimize performance through self-talk

Almost everyone talks himself or herself through situations, good and bad. Research reveals that self-talk can improve your performance by helping you regulate your emotions, thoughts, and energy, increase your confidence, improve coordination, control fine motor skills, enhance focus, and more.

No matter your skill level at a particular task, self-talk can help you perform optimally. To get the greatest benefits from self-talk, develop your own statements that are specific to you and what you are doing. These Performance Strategies will help you develop such instructional and motivational statements so you can execute tasks with precision and confidence.

A downloadable and printable version of "Self-Talk Strategies" can be found here [PDF].

Self-Talk #1

Instructional self-talk involves talking yourself through a task with step-by-step reminders at each phase while performing the task order to complete it successfully. When you are learning a new task, instructional self-talk can be a very useful tool to help you remember all the necessary steps of the new task. Experts use this method to ensure that all steps are completed in the correct order and manner. To develop effective instructional self-talk statements, it is important that the steps are accurate to begin with; being shown how each step looks is ideal.

Example: if you are practicing marksmanship, statements such as “See the target…straighten elbows…lock onto target…and fire” are helpful. You may even want to number each step, especially if there are a lot of them, so the previous statement would be “Step 1, see the target; step 2, straighten elbows…”

Results: Using this method to break down complex tasks or activities that require, for example, precision (fine motor skills) can help you focus and complete them with greater accuracy.

Self-Talk #2

Motivational self-talk is composed of positive phrases that encourage you to keep on track and work through challenges. These phrases can be used to get you psyched up, stay the course, or calm down.

Examples: Statements like “I can do this” or “let’s go” are examples of self-talk that motivates you to get your energy primed and ready for action. Statements like “take a deep breath” or “I’m okay” can release the nervousness you may experience in tense situations. Simply repeating the word “focus” may help you concentrate on the task at hand.

Results: These positive statements boost performance by helping build confidence, enhance self-efficacy (belief in your ability to perform a specific activity), reduce jitters, and improve mood. Motivational statements are particularly useful for tasks that involve strength and endurance, reaction time when faced with making a choice and/or speed.

Sports science studies have shown that positive self-talk can improve reaction time and enhance physical performance such as balance and vertical jumps. For more help on how to develop general positive statements, see the OSOK Mind Tactics module for tips on creating and enhancing internal dialogue.