Have you ever considered the impact of self talk on your performance? Words are powerful. More so when you’re under pressure. We take a look at the correlation between self talk and performance.

The Research

Have you shared your goals with others only to hear that “It’ll never happen” or it “Won’t work” leaving your self belief battered and bruised? Or maybe you recognise the negativity, but it’s emanating from your own inner narrative rather than an external source. Left unchecked, that negative inner dialogue may be having an equally detrimental impact on your performance. 

Researchers at Northumbria University recruited 14 cyclists to measure the impact of different types of self talk on performance. Barwood et al discovered that the cyclists performance improved when they implemented motivational self talk. Their rating of perceived exertion (RPE), the effort they were using, also decreased with the positive self talk. Not only did this strategy enhance their pace and overall time it also had a positive impact on their future performance. The cyclists displaying negative self talk achieved consistently poorer results.

Self Talk and Self Belief

Working with sporting bodies like the FA and UK Sport, we’ve come to recognise how self talk is a major factor in success. Here’s what the rest of us can learn from the sporting world – your self talk shapes your self belief. Your self belief affects everything you do, influencing the success of every goal you work towards. Whether you think you can or you can’t, chances are, you’re probably right. Lets start with the meaning of self belief. Psychologist, Albert Bandura, spent a lifetime researching self-efficacy (the belief in your capabilities).

Self Belief A Definition

The definition of self belief is the trust that you have in your own ability to achieve your goals. When you have self belief you know that when you set yourself a goal, even if there are setbacks, you’ll make it – eventually. Self belief and confidence walk together hand in hand. Even if your belief in yourself has taken a few hard knocks, Bandura’s research shows that you can build self belief by using simple techniques, including self talk.

Explanatory Styles & Long Term Performance

Motivational self talk will work for you way beyond the moment that you practice it. Renowned positive psychologist, Martin Seligman discovered that our ‘explanatory style’ has a critical impact upon performance. His research asked, “what is self talk in sport?”. Seligman examined whether it was possible to predict poor athletic performance based upon individual athletes pessimistic explanatory style or how they explained setbacks. He analysed three different explanatory styles or types of self talk when athletes faced setbacks:

Stable vs Unstable

Were the setbacks perceived as permanent or temporary by the athletes.

Specific vs Global

Did they perceive setbacks as permanent, affecting other areas of life that weren’t related to sport.

Internal vs External

The degree to which athletes blamed themselves or other people for failures.

The study found that performance worsened for athletes with a pessimistic explanatory style. Those with an optimistic style had greater resilience and could more readily overcome setbacks.

Why Words Are Important

Listen out for your self talk the next time you experience a setback. If you’ve ever told yourself ‘I just can’t get the hang of doing this” or ‘That’s not for people like me’  recognise that this pessimistic style of inner dialogue or self-talk will keep you stuck in a performance rut. If you’ve had a lifetime of putting yourself down with negative inner dialogue, it’s time to put on those gloves and do some hard hitting with new positive self talk.

Confident self-talk is crucial. Remember, we move towards what we focus our on. Tell yourself ‘this is easy for me’ and you will act accordingly. Recognise that there will be bumps in the road and take setbacks in your stride. Create a list of confidence quotes  and self esteem mantras to keep you going when things get tough.

Developing an Optimistic Explanatory Style

  • Monitor your self talk on a regular basis. See if it’s possible to catch those thoughts before they come to fruition. Identifying negative self talk is the first step to changing it, honing your focus with mindfulness will help you to do just that.
  • Try not to make negative statements about your goal, either to yourself or others. If you catch yourself making a negative statement, immediately correct it with a positive comment. Your on team ‘You’ now. Believe in yourself and others will start to take their cue from you.
  • Make positive statements to yourself about your abilities and skills. Learn to appreciate your strengths.
  • Replace negative thoughts with positive alternatives.
  • Practice until positive self-talk is one of your daily habits. Positive self-talk is essential for increasing your self belief and taking your confidence to the next level.

We work internationally with organisations offering performance coaching and training. We’ve successfully worked with thousands of  businesses and individuals around the world to help them achieve their goals. We’ve coached hundreds of leaders in business, elite sport and tech. We work internationally with Fortune 100 companies to optimise performance, reduce burnout, building resilience and workforce wellness. We provide consultancy, leadership coaching and training. If you’d like to know more about how we can partner with your organisation, get in touch.

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