We all talk to ourselves it is something we do every day. However our own awareness of this varies. If we are aware of our self-talk then we can utilise it to our advantage and adjust the negative self-talk into something positive and useful.

Self-talk has been shown to enhance motor skills (Johnson et al, 2004; Cutton &Landin, 2007), improve strength (Tod et al, 2009; Edwards et al, 2008; St Clair Gibson & Foster, 2007), improve concentration (Conroy & Metzler, 2004; Hatzigeorgiadis et al, 2009; Crust & Azadi, 2010), emotional control (Hatzigeorgiadis et al, 2004; Mamassis & Doganis, 2004) and drive(Hardy et al, 2001; Kress & Statler, 2007; Harwood et al, 2004).

These effects are well documented but how do you become aware of your own self talk if you are not already. The Paperclip Technique.

Put a handful of paperclips in your pocket before training. Every time you notice you are talking to yourself move a paperclip to the other pocket. At the end of the session you’ll see how often you talk to yourself. This can also be used to highlight negative self-talk, as you move the paperclips when negative self-talk is used.

Once you are aware of your own self-talk frequency, experiment with different forms of cue words and phrases to see what works and is meaningful to you. As with most psychological skills individualisation is at the heart and what works for you may not work for someone else.

Research by Hardy et al (2001) highlighted 2 main themes of self-talk;

  • Motivational self-talk, with sub themes of drive control, mastery and arousal control.
  • Examples  ’switch on’ ‘be aggressive’ ‘power’ and ‘never back down’
  • Instructional self-talk, with sub themes of skill development and skill execution.
  • Examples  ’drive through at the target’ ‘stay tall’ and ‘get low’

Both have been proven to improve performance in physiological testing, sprint performance, skill execution and increase focus.

As the examples above show phrases as well as cue words, this will obviously be an individual preference but also time dependant. Exercise psychology research has shown the use of another person’s voice, i.e. a coach or fitness instructor, can also increase motivation and performance.

Take home messages:

  • Beware of your own self-talk;
  • Paperclip technique to enhance awareness
  • Use your self-talk to your advantage
  • Structure cue words or phrases that are:
  • instructional or motivational
  • individual and meaningful to you