Self-Talk: How to Harness Our Thoughts
Self-talk is the dialogue we have with ourselves, either speaking out loud or in our head.
By being deliberate and intentional with what we say, it is possible to harness the power of self-talk, enhancing attention, motivation and performance. It’s a tool we can use in training and climbing.
To best use self-talk, ask yourself what you want to achieve. Is it to increase effort when you’re really pumped? Boost your confidence? Or maybe help refine a skill and direct your focus?
The intention of motivational self-talk is to use words or phrases that help gee you up. For example, I often say to myself “come on!” when I’m training and need a little push to get me through the final rep.
Using motivational self-talk can also improve confidence! It can be used as a reminder of previous times we have been successful – persuading our minds that we can actually do it! For example, you may say “I’ve got this, I’ve done it before”.
Instructional self-talk can be used to direct our attention and can be particularly useful if you are learning a new technique or skill. For example, on one of my current boulder projects, I need my foot to apply enough pressure in the right direction. Saying “twist foot” to myself just before I pull on helps me to cue the movement.
Not all self-talk is planned
Becoming aware of spontaneous self-talk can highlight what we are thinking or feeling. This provides an opportunity to reflect and change an unhelpful mindset.
For example, I’m at the crag and trying a hard problem. A thought pops up: “I am so bad at slopers, I can never use them”. Becoming aware of this dialogue gives me a chance to re-evaluate and choose to rethink: “This climb with slopers is challenging; how can I change my body position to make the holds feel as good as possible?”
Intentional self-talk isn’t helpful for everyone: it can be particularly effective if you process information and thoughts in a verbal way, rather than through mental images. Likewise, there is no hard and fast rule for when to use each type of self-talk. Having the awareness of the different tools helps you choose what works best for you.
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