A simple and effective tool that you can use to “master your craft” is self-talk. Self-talk refers to the internal or external dialogue that you have with yourself, which can either take the form of positive (e.g., I’m doing great) or negative statements (e.g., I can’t do this, it’s too hard).
To no one’s surprise, research has demonstrated that we do not engage in enough positive self-talk. Of the 66 000 thoughts that we have per day, about 70% to 80% are negative!
Thoughts are extremely powerful and can have a substantial impact on your overall well-being and how you interact with the world around you. Therefore, it is essential that you try to increase the amount of positive thoughts that you have on a day-to-day basis.
Depending on the context that you are in and your personal needs, self-talk can serve three different functions. The first function is instructional. It involves using cues to improve skill execution. For instance, if you are a basketball player practicing your free-throws, you can tell yourself, “flick the wrist”. The second function is motivational. It refers to using statements to build your confidence and regulate your energy levels. For example, if you are at the end of a race, you can tell yourself, “you can do this”. The third function is directional. It implies utilizing positive affirmations to bring yourself back to the present moment. For instance, if you are daydreaming in class and notice it, you can tell yourself, “be in the here and now”.
Start by picking out a function that meets your needs. Afterwards, create a “mantra” that is short (single word, a few words, or a short sentence), positive (avoid words like can’t, don’t, etc.), and meaningful to you (words that are powerful to you). If you are using the motivational and/or directional functions of self-talk, make sure that you use your “mantra” a lot at the beginning to break the pattern of negative thoughts. However, once you are on track, use it only when you need to (if you use it too much, it can lose its power). Moreover, some research has suggested that it is better to use the pronoun “you” (vs. “I”) and to say your “mantra” out loud (vs. internally). However, I believe that these two suggestions should boil down to your own preference.
Check out the following example. This is the motivational self-talk used by Shannon Briggs, two-time boxing heavyweight champion of the world:
Here is an exercise example that supports the idea that self-talk can improve performance. In 2013, Blanchfield and colleagues examined the impact of a motivational self-talk intervention on endurance performance. Participants were either assigned to the control group (did not perform any intervention) or the self-talk group. To begin with, all participants went through an exhaustion test on a cycle ergometer (pre-test). Afterwards, the self-talk group went through an education phase and practiced motivational self-talk during their subsequent workouts. After the intervention, all participants went through a second exhaustion test (post-test). The researchers found that the self-talk group significantly improved its endurance performance from pre-test to post-test, while there was no change in the control group.
Set goals. Do just one thing at a time. Keep it simple and smart. Do it consistently. Reflect on the process.
Blanchfield, A. W., Hardy, J., Majella de Morree, H., Staiano, W., & Maria Marcora, S. (2014). Talking yourself out of exhaustion: The effects of self-talk on endurance performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 46, 998-1007.