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Learning, Psychology, Sport, Uncategorized

Talking to yourself is okay, but be positive

I don’t really like running with other people very much. I am improving but I think my preference for being on my own stems from two things. First, I have difficulty running at my pace when I run with others because I want to make sure they are getting the workout they need (not too fast, not too slow). Second, I can’t talk to myself when I’m running with someone else so I lose my positive self-talk. Between these two things I almost always find that my performance is worse when I run with someone else.

So the pace thing, is something that I’m working on. I don’t even run with music because I am too prone to following the beat, but now I’m looking at how I can use that to actually improve my leg turnover. But the self-talk is a different matter.

Self-talk is really a conversation with yourself that may involve some or all of interpreting feelings and perceptions, regulating and changing evaluations and convictions, and giving yourself instructions and reinforcement (Barwood, et al, 2015). I do this a lot. I will evaluate how a run (or other activity) is feeling in terms of muscles, perceived exertion, mental focus. I will actively work to change negative evaluations (for example, “I’ve already run for this long, of course I can go another x”). And I provide a lot of instructions and reinforcement (for example, this will help with another activity, or just breath a little deeper). I personally feel like my self-talk helps, but what does the research say?

Self-talk does help. Barwood et al. found that participants in a time trial were able to increase their power output while maintaining the same rate of perceived exertion (RPE) when the practiced motivational self-talk compared to a group that used neutral self-talk. In the neutral self-talk they countered a negative thought that spontaneously occurred to them with assigned statements that were unrelated such as “My favourite colour is green.”

Many people are not natural positive self-talkers. Instead their internal (or external) dialogue is filled with thoughts about how much they hurt, or why they don’t want to do this, or what they should actually be doing. This doesn’t help. I’ve had workouts like this and I end up feeling worse at the end than I did when I started. I also find that when I can’t get out of this slump I am more likely to stop my workout earlier than I planned, which then makes me feel even worse about the workout than I already did.

Barwood et al. actually trained people on how to do motivational self-talk. He had participants in that group write down statements that they often say/think while they are working out. Then he had them come up with statements that countered those negative items. They made a plan from the start of a time trial that had trained comments every 2 km. So statements like “I’ve worked too hard” became “I can manage my energy until the end”.

I think that this applies not just to sports, but also to education, and pretty much any other task that we have to work to finish. For example, if you know you need to clean the house but you keep saying “I’ve left it too long, I’ll never catch up” then you won’t. What things do you say to yourself that you need to change your perspective on?

Barwood, M., Corbett, J., Wagstaff, C., McVeigh, D., & Thelwell, R. (2015). Improvement of 10-km time-trial cycling with motivational self-talk compared with neutral self-talk. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 10, 166-171. http://dx.doi.org/10.1123/ijspp.2014-0059

About Tai Munro

I am passionate about making science, sustainability, and sport accessible through engaging information and activities.


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