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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Self Talk: Keep It Positive!

Anybody that has competed in sports, or given a big presentation at work, knows what self-talk is.  Self-talk is a strategy we use to perform better.  We use it to build up confidence, remind ourselves of what needs to be done, or as a tool to distract ourselves from the magnitude of an experience.  Self-talk can also be defeating.  We sometimes "psych ourselves out" with self-talk.

I've recently come across a couple interesting studies on ScienceDaily.com...

"I Vs. We: Individuals Perform Better When Focused On Team's Effort" discusses the relationship between performance and team efforts.   

"The study revealed that group-oriented self-talk enhanced a team's confidence."  "By focusing on the team, you include yourself without putting the focus or extra pressure on yourself."
I notice this every time I teach a group training class.   People will perform better, or do more work, when in a group setting.  For example;  If I tell somebody to perform a set of 10 pushups in a 1 on 1 training situation, they may find it very difficult.  But instruct a group to perform 10 pushups and you will find that same person perform those same 10 pushups with ease.  How is that possible?  10 pushups is 10 pushups, whether you are performing them alone or with five other people surrounding you.  As the study pointed out, being in a group takes the "focus or extra pressure" off the individual.

I have also noticed this phenomenon during timed workouts.  People will move much faster when part of a group.  A workout that takes a person 10 minutes to complete may only take them 8 minutes in a group setting.  Less pressure could be a part of this phenomenon, but competition is another big factor.  Some people strive when in competitive situations.  They are either pushing harder to keep a lead or pushing harder to catch the leader.

Thoughts That Win discusses the relationship between performance and different types of self-talk, such as defeating self-talk, instructional self-talk and motivational self-talk.
"different self-talk cues work differently in different situations. For tasks requiring fine skills or for improving technique "instructional self-talk," such as a technical instruction ("elbow-up" which Hatzigeorgiadis coaches beginner freestyle swimmers to say) is more effective than 'motivational self-talk' (e.g., "give it all"), which seems to be more effective in tasks requiring strength or endurance, boosting confidence and psyching-up for competition. Thus, we should carefully design the self-talk athletes use according to needs."
This is a very important point when working on complex movements like the snatch, clean & jerk or deadlift.  These movements require a lot of coaching and technique work.  It is counter-productive to give yourself motivational self-talk when working on technique.  It is also counter-productive to over fill your head with technical self-talk.  Sometimes you can have "paralysis by analysis".

The first time I lifted 225lb over my head I had only one thought in my head...  "UP, UP, UP, UP!!!"

Negative self talk can hurt your performance just as much as positive self-talk can help.  I have done this to myself many times.  I will load up a bar and immediately think "wow, this is heavy".  As soon as that thought enters my mind, I have already failed the lift before I even touch the bar.

Your mental approach to performance is just as important as your physical approach.  I don't pretend to understand why we respond to certain mental stimulus the way we do, but I do know everybody is wired a little bit differently.  Some people thrive in group situations.  Everybody uses self-talk differently.  Some respond better to instructional self-talk while others respond better to motivational self-talk.  But no matter who you are, or how you respond to different stimuli, it is important to stay positive.  The one factor that holds true in every study shows that being positive will help performance.

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