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6 ways to improve how you talk to yourself

3 min read
  • Metacognition
  • Stress management & well-being

How well you talk to yourself will impact on how you feel and, subsequently, how well you will perform. Research has shown that how you talk to yourself can affect your persistence, concentration and stress levels. This blog looks at six simple and straightforward techniques that can help you, your students, or your athletes improve self talk.

6 better ways to talk to yourself

Say Stop – Researchers have found that by saying ‘Stop’ straight after a negative thought has helped people to manage frustration, overcome nerves, sleep better and stop dwelling on worst case scenarios. You may not be able to control the first thing that pops into your head, but you can control the second. Saying ‘stop’ is a good strategy that allows you to proceed with more helpful thoughts.

Ask Yourself Questions – In a study on anagrams, participants who asked themselves questions (“Will I do well?”) solved significantly more than those who had declared they would succeed (“I will do well”). One possible reason why this strategy is effective is because by asking yourself questions, your brain automatically starts searching for answers, acting as a call to action.

It is thought that asking yourself questions is especially effective for when adopting a new behaviour or when in an unfamiliar scenario. Asking yourself questions can also help you develop metacognitive skills, which research suggests can enhance learning, especially for disadvantaged students.

‘You’ is Better Than ‘I’ – Getting people to talk to themselves in the second person (i.e. ‘You can do this’) may be more effective than if they did it in the first person (i.e. ‘I can do this’). Researcher Ethan Kross and his team stressed out participants by telling them they had to give a public speech in front of judges in order to win their ideal job. 

Half of the participants were instructed to talk to themselves in the first person (‘I’) and the other half with either the word ‘you’ or their name. The results? Those that used the word ‘you’ or their name at the start of their advice to themselves reported feeling more confident and less nervous. Interestingly, the judges also viewed them as having made a better first impression.

An interesting example of someone talking in the second person came when Arsenal football manager asked a young Zlatan Ibrahimovic to trial with Arsenal. His reply? “Zlatan doesn’t do auditions.”

Setbacks and mistakes are part of the learning process. Our practical strategies will help your students fail better.

Tell Yourself What To Do – Giving yourself instructions has been demonstrated to help athletes improve their attention and how successfully they perform under pressure. Away from sport, there is also evidence to suggest that teaching students to talk to themselves in this way can improve their performance in the classroom by improving their self-control as well as their ability to plan and prepare. Clearly telling yourself what to do, instead of just saying that you are going to do well, can be a very effective way to talk to yourself.

Energising Language – Talking to yourself in an upbeat manner can increase your motivation (an approach adopted by many when they tell themselves to ‘keep going’ when running on a treadmill). This type of self-talk can also help block out potentially distracting thoughts and aid self-control, especially when large amounts of effort and endurance are required.

Surround yourself with positive people – How other people talk about you may impact how you talk to yourself. Researchers have found that negative statements made by teachers were predictive of how girls viewed their maths ability and were linked to an increase in negative self-talk in boys. Clearly, how you talk to yourself makes a difference, but so does how you talk to others.


6 Ways to Improve How You Talk to Yourself

For more info, take a look at our guide page “How to Develop a Growth Mindset“, where you’ll find links to blogs and research.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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