Thoughts play a critical role in determining your emotional responses to events. Your thoughts about yourself and your performance and your interpretation of specific situations have a direct impact on your feelings and behavior. Increasing the amount of positive self-talk can improve your exercise program—and your life in general. To enhance your self-talk, use these pointers:
1. Understand Self-Talk. Whenever you think about something, you are, in essence, talking to yourself. Self-talk serves as the vehicle for making perceptions and beliefs conscious.
2. Determine If You Need More Positive Self-Talk. Is your self-talk generally negative? To find out, try this simple exercise: Carry some paper clips in your pocket. Each time you make a negative self-statement, hook two clips together, building a chain. Just seeing the length of the chain at the end of the day may motivate you to make some changes! Keeping a daily record of your self-talk in a workout log can also effectively increase your awareness. Record the situation in which the self-talk occurred; the content of the self-talk; and the consequences, in terms of performance, emotion or both.
3. Recognize the Benefits. Self-talk can be used to correct bad habits, modify intensity, focus attention, build and maintain self-confidence and encourage exercise maintenance. Research by E. F. Gauvin reported in Exploring Sport and Exercise Psychology found that persistent exercisers use positive self-talk while dropouts and sedentary people use self-defeating, negative self-verbalization, such as, “How many times am I going to make that mistake?” or “I don’t like to exercise.” Self-talk can be used in many different situations.
4. Acquire New Skills. When learning new skills, use self-talk as cue words to focus your attention. For example, you might use simple cues such as “Stretch,” “Pull” or “Reach” to focus attention on your movement.
5. Break Bad Habits. To break old habits and make new responses automatic, you need to decide on the best instructional cues. The greater the change, the more self-instruction you require. For example, if you are a bodybuilder who drops your head while performing squats, you may want to repeat “Head up” throughout the exercise until the correct posture becomes second nature.
6. Initiate Action. Self-talk can be motivating. A runner can increase speed by using such cue words as “Quick!” or “Kick!” A golfer can improve his form by intentionally verbalizing cues like “Arm straight,” “Head down” and “Follow through.”
7. Sustain Effort. Once an exercise or movement has begun, sustaining effort or motivation may be a problem. Positive instructional cues like “Focus,” “Keep your feet moving” or “Hang in there” can help you sustain effort when you are fatigued.
8. Be in the Here and Now. During exercise the mind tends to wander and lose focus. Staying in the present is critically important to foster improvement and prevent injury. Commands like “Focus,” “Concentrate” or “Be here now” can bring you back to center. Using a specific set of verbal cues can help you keep your mind sharply focused on relevant tasks. Self-talk that focuses on the present can.