We all do it. Talk ourselves out of the early morning workouts. Then after a tough day, dread the thought of an after-work gym session and end up talking ourselves out of that too. It’s hard to get motivated. And it all starts with our attitude. The thing that can help or hinder our fitness intentions.
It can often feel like a negative attitude or mood is thrust upon us and there’s nothing we can do about it. In reality, the majority of it is in our control. Choosing to approach situations with a positive attitude can have an overwhelmingly positive effect on our motivation and work ethic. But of course, that can be a lot easier said than done. That’s where the tactic of positive self-talk can come in.
Positive self-talk in sport is a widely researched concept. All top athletes use it. But how can we use the tactic in other types of exercise too? How can we practice it properly? And how can we use it to improve our workouts and fitness motivation?
What is positive self-talk in sport?
Positive self-talk in sport is one of the simplest principles of sports psychology. Yet, it’s one of the toughest to master.
Self-talk is your internal dialogue. But it’s strongly influenced by your subconscious mind and can be very negative if you’re not aware of it. Our brains are always involved in some form of self-talk, particularly when we’re under physical or mental pressure. The key is to become aware of your internal chatter, acknowledging and noting it. Whether positive, negative or uncertain. Then take control and readdress it to make it as supportive and encouraging as possible.
What’s the science behind positive self-talk in sport?
Talking to yourself seems like a weird thing to do. But we all do it. Research confirms that, particularly in the context of exercise, we use it for both motivational and cognitive purposes. So, it’s important to acknowledge the impact of what we say to ourselves as it will have an impact on our behaviours and actions.
It sounds too simple. Too easy to work. We all think we’re above the small things we can do to help ourselves. But research shows, regular implementation of positive self-talk can work.
Studies have shown that those who adopt positive self-talk strategies and Motivational Self-Talk programs (MST) can perform better in physical activities, particularly endurance ones. For example, in one study, cyclists boosted their cycling time exhaustion by 25% over two weeks. Other studies show that athletes who used positive affirmations for fitness motivation scored better on strength and endurance.
How should I begin?
Start by reflecting and acknowledging the way you talk to yourself during your workouts. Things like “My legs are tired” or “I can’t do this” are quite common. But these affirmations might be making it even harder for yourself. They’ll drain your energy, sap your motivation and ultimately decrease your performance.
You might not even be aware that you’re doing it. Make a conscious effort to listen to your internal dialogue next time you hit the gym. Is your attitude towards exercise one of apathy or negativity? If so, you might be reinforcing this with the self-talk you’re doing.
And don’t forget, it’s normal and okay to fall victim to it. We all do it. Don’t be angry or cross at yourself and keep fuelling the cycle of negativity.
The trick is to show yourself compassion and kindness. It’s something a lot of us find difficult, but it’s important to do.
Decide that from now on, you will talk yourself up. Be your own hype man. The best self-talk encourages and motivates, as well as soothes and reassures.
What’s the best way to use positive self-talk?
Use second or third person pronouns. It seems your choice of words really matters. Research published in 2014 studied the pronouns people use when they talk to themselves silently in their own minds. It showed that saying the word “I” can be stressful rather than bringing on positive feelings.
Instead, sports psychologists recommend using second or third person pronouns. “You can do it”, or “Come on Charlie, just a couple more reps”. Doing this creates emotional distance from yourself, like you’re talking to a separate person, which actually makes it easier to be kinder.
Use positive instructions. Rather than saying what you shouldn’t be doing, keep the focus on what you should be doing. “You’ve got a great pace”, or “you’ve got this” rather than “don’t slow down”. Doing this will boost your motivation without even trying.
Practice in advance. If it’s not your natural instinct, positive self-talk can take some practice. Much of it depends on your personality. If you’re a natural optimist, positive self-talk in sport and exercise might come easily. Pessimistic people might find it trickier, so they will need to find positive phrases to remember to shift their negative inner dialogue.
The keys steps are to acknowledge your current self-talk, decide to readdress your choice of self-talk, and implement a new approach and repeat. Life it tough, busy and demanding. Praise yourself for the little wins and the rest will follow.
On your marks, get set, Hussle.