Before or during competition, one of performance psychology’s most powerful strategies is silently talking to yourself. (Think: “I am focused, I am ready.”) In a recent study, researchers from Michigan State University monitored participants’ brain activity while they responded to negative images and painful memories with positive affirmations. The result: self-talk in the third person was more effective than in the first person.
“Words hold power over our brains, which is why using self-talk to motivate ourselves when we’re losing or feel like giving up is so powerful,” says Chris Friesen, Ph.D., director of Friesen Sport & Performance Psychology in Ontario. It can help you stay focused on the process of what you’re doing by increasing your mindfulness in that moment, he adds. “One of the biggest problems we run into during competitions or training is getting caught up by negative thoughts,” he explains. Trying to fight the unhelpful thoughts eats up precious brainpower, so it’s far more effective to psychologically distance yourself from the feelings of pain, exhaustion, or doubt as much as possible. That’s where talking to yourself in the third person comes in. The researchers found that doing so allows your brain to have less of an emotional response to stress without using any extra mental effort.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Create a go-to pep talk, Friesen says, and when you start to feel that pre-race anxiety build, use your name with a positive saying: “Jennifer is prepared and ready to go.” Combat thoughts of giving up by saying to yourself, “Jennifer feels exhausted but pushes on,” or “Jennifer doesn’t give up on anything.” It may feel a little cheesy at first, but you don’t have to actually say it out loud for it to work.