“The mind guides action. If we succeed in regulating our thoughts, then this will help our behavior.”
You know that voice inside your head when you’re competing?
Sometimes it says some good things, and sometimes it says some nasty things. Whatever you do, it just seems to appear out of nowhere. The truth is, we all have an inner voice. There is a constant internal dialogue going on in every competitor’s mind.
Will you do something for me real quick?
Close your eyes and think of your best performance. Remember every emotion or sensation you experienced during that performance. Try to recall the thoughts you had.
If you answered yes to those questions, congrats! 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 defined as that almost unreal state of being where you feel in tune with your body, time slows down, and you feel like you can do anything (Csikszentmnihalyi, 1990).
Creating Your FLOW State
Would you believe me if I told you that you can learn how to create your flow state? It’s true, you can!
And an important skill in learning how to do so is the ability to use productive self-talk. Since we’re all having those ongoing conversations in our heads when we compete, we can develop skills to ensure those conversations enhance our performance rather than hinder it. Notice that I used the term, productive self-talk, rather than positive self-talk. No, I don’t think positivity’s a bad thing, it definitely is a good thing. But oftentimes, for an athlete in the heat of competition, it is difficult to distinguish between what’s helpful and what’s nonsense. But I’m here to tell you that an athlete’s secret weapon is productive self-talk!
The research shows that productive self-talk positively affects athletic performance (Hatzigeorgiadis, A., Zourbanos, N., Galanis, E., & Theodorakis, Y., 2014).
Here are some ways it can help you:
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.”
However, the key to utilizing the power of productive self-talk is knowing what to say when. When it comes to skills, technique improvements, or training, instructional self-talk is more effective than motivational self-talk. Ideally, motivational self-talk is applied when a task requires strength or endurance, to boost confidence, or to prepare an athlete to perform.
What’s the best way to decide when to use what?
Put it into practice every single day!
Here are some other helpful tips for how to use self talk to get you into your optimal performance mindset:
Practice self-talk every day in all environments. Train it in school, at work, on the field, off the field, on the court, off the court, etc.
Write self-talk scripts applicable to all training and competitive environments
It’s imperative that the verbiage emphasizes what is productive for athletes in given situations, rather than what should be avoided
It’s a good idea to begin productive self-talk even before an error is made. You can practice it in warm-ups or during the drive to the event.
To improve your ability to regulate emotions, talk to yourself in the third person, like “Tim, check your shoulder.”
To summarize, by practicing and incorporating productive self-talk into your life and routine, you will increase your performance, elevate your confidence, and get closer to reaching your flow state, where nothing can stop you!
Tim Bennett: Soccer Resilience® Ambassador, and Director of Coach + Player Education at Trace