By: Tim Bennett, MGCP
You know that voice inside your head when you are competing? Sometimes, it says some good things, and then sometimes it says some nasty stuff. And try as you want but it just seems to come out of nowhere. Truth be told is that everyone has this inner voice. During competition, we have a constant internal conversation going on inside our mind.
Now, close your eyes and think of the best game or the best performance you ever had. Try and remember everything single feeling or sensation you experienced. Remember your thoughts from that performance. Did you feel completely in control? Did you feel confident? Did time slow down? Did it feel effortless? Were you completely focused on your competitive tasks? Were you having fun? Was your inner voice quiet or positive?
If you answered yes to those questions, congratulations! You were experiencing a psychological state called flow. Some refer to it as being in the zone, or on a roll, or having all the momentum. Flow is an elusive psychological state that occurs during peak performance, where you feel entirely in tune with your body, time slows down, and you feel like you can accomplish anything (Csikszenthmnihalyi, 1990)
Would you believe me that you can learn how to put yourself in a position to create your flow state? Well, you can! And one important skill to learn to do that is productive self-talk. Since we all have that ongoing conversation in our head when we compete, we can learn skills to ensure those conversations enhance our performance rather than deter it. Notice that I used the term, productive self-talk and not positive self-talk. It is not that I don’t think positivity is a good thing, it is. But oftentimes for an athlete in the heat of competition, it becomes hard to distinguish between what is helpful and what is nonsense. Productive self-talk is an athlete’s secret weapon!
The research shows that productive self-talk positively affects athletic performance (Hatzigeorgiadis, A., Zourbanos, N., Galanis, E., & Theodorakis, Y., 2014). In what specific ways do you ask. Glad you did. Here are some of the ways:
- Improves self-confidence
- Effects motor skill performance more than cognitive performance
- Increases enjoyment
- Decreases anxiety
- Assists in emotion and thought regulation
- Improves concentrations and focus
There are four specific categories of performance-based self-talk:
- Calming/Relaxing – “Take a deep breath.”
- Instructional – “Bend your knees.”
- Motivational – “Come on, let’s go!”
- Focus – “Just concentrate.”
But the key to harnessing the power of productive self-talk is knowing what to say when. For tasks that require fine skills or improving techniques, instructional self-talk is more effective than motivational. This type of self-talk is also more beneficial during training. However, motivational self-talk is best applied to a task requiring strength or endurance, boosting confidence, or “psyching up” an athlete for performance.
How do you figure out when to use what? PRACTICE IT DAILY! Here are some other helpful hints in how to use self talk to help get you into your optimal performance mindset:
- Train self-talk in all environments and every day. Train it in school, in the workplace, on the field, off the field, on the court, off the court, etc…
- Prepare self-talk scripts to use in all training and competitive environments
- Verbiage should emphasize what is productive for athletes in given situations, what is to be done rather than be avoided
- Don’t wait to start productive self-talk after a negative error, start it during warm-ups or in the car ride there
- Talk to yourself in the third person for better emotion regulation helps to provide enough psychological distance, “Tim, check your shoulder.”
Productive self-talk can increase your performance, enhance your confidence, and can get you closer to experiencing your flow state, where nothing can stand in your way!
“The mind guides action. If we succeed in regulating our thoughts, then this will help our behavior.” (Antonis Hatzigeorgiadis)