There’s no point in denying it. We talk to ourselves all the time. From the moment we wake up in the morning to when we close our eyes at night there is an internal dialogue playing out in our heads. In the world of sport psychology, this is called self-talk.
Self-talk has a handful of functions:
Expression: articulating your feelings at the moment
Instruction: telling yourself what do to, how to do it, and when
Self-regulation: directing attention, increasing confidence, regulating effort, and managing emotions
Motivation: encouraging yourself for the task at hand
Here’s how it works:
Unconscious responses: this is the self-talk that explodes in our minds right after a great play or something upsetting – it’s automatic
Conscious processing: this self-talk results from conscious processing and thinking, like thinking through the mechanics of a skill or planning your strategy
Self-talk can be extremely helpful for performance. As you see above with its many functions, it can help you motivate yourself, give yourself confidence, and regulate what’s going on in your body and mind. What a powerful mental tool to have at your fingertips!
There is a dark side to self-talk, though. Relying too much on conscious processing – such as thinking about the mechanics of your golf swing or jump shot follow through – when the skill is already ingrained and automatic can lead to suboptimal performance because of paralysis by analysis. In other words, you overanalyze and overthink automatic processes that should be left alone; they just require confident and smooth execution, not too much thought.
Further, when your self-talk doesn’t match how you truly feel in that moment, you experience dissonance, which can hinder confidence and focus, and thus performance. For example, if you feel highly nervous and activated and you try to tell yourself “I am relaxed and calm,” you might find that you can’t believe your own thoughts. That’s no good. Rather, in that moment, telling yourself “these feelings are just my body getting ready” or “I’ll use this energy I feel to explode out of the blocks” can be much more beneficial.
So, conquer your inner voice and take control of your self-talk!
Identify instances in which self-talk can be most helpful for you (i.e,, you typically need motivation for certain tasks, need to focus better in certain situations, or need to boost your confidence at times)
Decide on a word or phrase you will use in those moments to use your self-talk to your advantage
Practice these words and phrases during training so that you’re ready to rely on them during competition