Why Talking to Yourself Is a Secret Superpower


Much of the research on self-talk has been done on athletes, for whom it’s particularly important to distinguish between motivational self-talk (“Come on, you can do it! Just one more mile!”) and instructional self-talk (“Don’t forget to breathe. Lengthen your pace a little bit, there you go.”) since the type of self-talk they use in training or competitive circumstances could impact their performance. “When motor athletic skills require precision and technique, then instructional self-talk is said to be more effective than motivational self-talk,” says James Hardy, a senior lecturer in sport and exercise psychology at Bangor University in Wales. “When skills are more endurance-based, it’s the other way around.”

And then there’s positive and negative self-talk, which are pretty clear in their definitions: “Hell yeah, I am absolutely kicking ass today!” versus “I’m such a loser, I can’t even run a few miles before getting out of breath.”

Each of these forms of self-talk has its own benefits or, in some cases, drawbacks. A 2011 meta-review of how self-talk affects performance in sports found that motivational, instructional, and positive self-talk all benefited performance.

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