This morning I awoke and engaged in the following stream of thoughts: “It’s Monday. It’s hot. I should wake up my son so that he naps okay throughout the day. He’s so cute when he sleeps, I don’t want to wake him. Ugh, what should I do? Once he wakes we will play. I wonder if he will eat his breakfast this morning. That tooth has really been bothering him. I hope he naps. I have to return some phone calls and it’s been months
since I’ve written a blog entry. I’m really slacking here. Oh well, hopefully I can get it done today. I wish we had some yogurt. We don’t. I will have some cereal for breakfast.” Etc.
What is self-talk?
Self-talk refers to the ongoing dialogue that occurs within our
minds and influences how we feel and behave. Without realizing it, most people have constant conversations with themselves about their day-to-day activities. Sometimes the internal dialogue reflects a simple observation (i.e., “It’s Monday.”) or an interpretation of events (i.e., “I’m really slacking here.”). This inner voice influences the way we perceive ourselves, the environment, and the people around us. Furthermore, it consists of thoughts of which we are aware and those that are subconscious.
Consider the above example. My self-talk could have been more
pessimistic: “It’s Monday. Why are the weekends so short? I hate this schedule! It’s so hot – I feel disgusting. I’m so lazy for not being more on top of my blog. I’m basically a failure.” Consequently, my mood would likely be negatively affected and I may find myself rather unmotivated to work on this blog amongst other activities.
On the other hand, more positive self-talk might have ensued: “It’s Monday! What a great, beautiful, warm day. It’ll be a great day to go to the park. I’m so lucky my son sleeps and that he is so unbelievably adorable! It’s nice to give myself a break on keeping up with these blog entries – I’m sure my followers would understand. If anything, it’s an excellent exercise in humility!” Such an inner voice might set me up for a rather positive day.
For the most part, our self-talk is reasonable and even mundane (“Once he wakes we will play.” or “I wish we had some yogurt.”). When negative, self-defeating, or unrealistic self-talk occurs, however, many people find themselves feeling a number of unpleasant emotions and/or not meeting personal goals. The current blog entry will explore three different types of self-talk: negative, motivational, and instructional.
Just as it sounds, negative self-talk encompasses the harmful inner voice that interprets situations pessimistically. Examples include:
· “I’m stupid”
· “I can’t do anything right”
· “Nobody likes me”
· “Everybody is trying to screw me over”
· “Nothing ever works out”
For many people, negative self-talk leads to unpleasant emotions
like sadness, depression, anxiety, anger, fear, etc. It can also impair
motivation and impede progress toward goals. Of course, there are exceptions by which some experience increased motivation due to negative self-talk, but these individuals are usually in the minority.
For the most part, it tends to be most helpful to challenge, change, or accept without believing the negative self-talk. That is easier said than done! Some methods have been discussed in previous blog entries (for example):
· CBT 101: Challenging Maladaptive Thoughts
· CBT 101: Arriving at New Conclusions
It is important to identify the negative self-talk that interferes with your functioning. What negative self-talk do you find entering your mind throughout the day? Pay special attention to times when you are challenged, do not meet goals, and/or feel disappointed.
This entry will explore two forms of self-talk that may help to modify that pessimistic inner voice.
Often times, when discussing self-talk, people quickly suggest that you simply switch the negative statements to more positive ones. Motivational self-talk is a commonly used type of positive self-talk. Imagine a
little cheerleader in your head offering praise and encouragement in order to motivate you to achieve your goals. Examples include:
· “You can do it!”
· “You’re awesome!”
· “You’re going to do this excellently!”
· “Everything will be great!”
· “You rock!”
In sports, some studies suggest that motivational self-talk offers the most effectiveness with power goals, such as jumping high, throwing a ball far, punching hard, running fast, etc. Furthermore, athletes typically speak in the second person (“you can do it” vs. “I can do it”) when engaging in motivational self-talk.
Outside of sports, we participate in other activities that might require more power than precision. For instance, situations where you hesitate to act due to fear, anxiety, or low self-confidence might require motivational self-talk. Power goals in life might include:
· Calling someone for a first date.
· Walking into an anxiety-provoking social situation.
· Answering the phone when you see it’s a potential employer
· Getting out of bed (especially if you are depressed).
· Sitting down to write a blog entry after two months of not writing
What types of activities do you have difficulty initiating? How might motivational self-talk improve your performance in daily activities and/or life goals? What kind of statements could your inner voice make to motivate you toward those power goals?
Instructional self-talk can be often overlooked, which is unfortunate since it can be helpful in so many situations. As the term implies, instructional self-talk refers to the inner voice that provides directions for you to perform certain tasks. Some sports examples include:
· "Keep your eye on the ball.”
· “Loosen your grip.”
· “Turn your foot slightly outward.”
· “Focus on your next move.”
People often overuse motivational self-talk when more instructional statements would be most beneficial. According to sports psychologists, athletes best meet precision goals when using
instructional self-talk. For instance, consider a man trying to improve his tennis game. If he solely thinks “You are strong!” when playing the game, he may execute great power onto the ball with his racket, but he may also miss certain nuances and skills that would actually improve his tennis capabilities. Thoughts like “loosen your grip” or “look to where you want the ball to go” might further develop abilities requiring fine motor coordination and accuracy.
Some non-sport experiences may parallel precision goals as well. For instance, a person with social anxiety may be able to walk into a crowded room and start a conversation with someone riding the high
of a motivational statement like “people love you,” but instructional self-talk like “make eye contact” or “finish your sentence; don’t trail off” might best help that person maintain composure throughout the evening. In another example, a psychologist trying to write a new blog entry might use an inner voice that says “just write one paragraph” or “come back to this in 15 minutes.”
What are some situations in which instructional self-talk may be
useful? What types of instructional self-statements can you make to achieve your goals?
In summary, self-talk profoundly influences how we feel and behave; negative self-talk can lead people to unpleasant feelings as well as
undesirable performance outcomes. A person who thinks “I’m going to fall” may likely slip and take a spill. Motivational self-talk refers to positive self-statements intended to inspire optimal performance, and instructional self-talk involves more directive speech that is usually rather neutral in its tone. Some sports psychologists suggest that motivational self-talk helps most during power/strength tasks whereas instructional self-talk best facilitates the execution of precision tasks. Like most psychological concepts, choosing between motivational and instructional self-talk is not so black and white; a combination of the two usually provides the best performance. For instance, the person concerned about falling would likely benefit most from motivational
statements like “I’m not going to fall! I got this!” as well as instructional ones like“Place one foot in front of the other. Breathe.” While motivational and instructional self-talk are usually examined in sports psychology, both of these inner voices have a place in our daily activities and non-sports goals.
Examples of literature examining self-talk:
Dana, A., Mousavi, M. V., Mokhtari, P. (2012). The effect of instructional and motivational self-talk on motor performance in adults and adolescents. Advances in Environmental Biology, 6(3),
Theodorakis, Y., Weinberg, R., Natsis, P., Douma, I., & Kazakas, P. (2000). The effects of motivational versus instructional self-talk on improving motor performance. The Sports Psychologist, 14, 253-272.