Do you ever have a goal or task that you want to complete, but you just can’t bring yourself to complete it? Are you in the midst of a task where you can’t bring yourself to put in any more effort than you already are? Sometimes you can be so motivated to follow through with your goals, and other times, you just can’t seem to get anything going, even if you know what you need to do.
Lack of motivation can prevent you from achieving long-term goals, and can hinder your performance. It’s hard to get what you know you want when you have nothing driving you there.
You need a personal pep-talk!
Sometimes what someone says can ignite the fuel in your motivational engine, and inspire you to get going. Sometimes the only person you have to give you a pep talk is you– and that pep talk is a technique known as self-talk.
Self-talk is how you talk to yourself, either in your head or vocally, and use of self-talk has been known to have effects on motivation and performance. Self-talk can be instructional (instructing yourself through the motions) or motivational, and in a review of self-talk literature, Tod et al. (2011) found that instructional self-talk are both equally effective on both precision-oriented and conditioning-based tasks. This means that not only is self-talk effective for short-term performance goals, but also for maintaining focus on long-term and endurance based goals.
Factors that affect motivation
In the previously stated literature review, it was found that self-talk was effective for reducing cognitive anxiety (Tod et al., 2011). Sometimes anxiety is what prevents you from performing your tasks and driving toward your goals. Use of motivational self-talk can decrease cognitive anxiety. Your focus can also benefit from the use of self-talk. In a study in 1994, Landin found that verbal cues could be used to increase focus. Having greater focus can lead to more persistence and less vulnerability to distraction.
The two-way relationship between motivation and self-talk
Motivation and self-talk have a give and take relationship. Not only can self-talk be used to motivate, but intrinsically motivated individuals are also more likely to use self-talk as a motivational strategy. In a study 1999 study, high school students answered a survey to measure their use of motivational regulation strategies and effort in their classwork. The results showed showed that a form of motivational self-talk around mastery was the only motivational strategy that individually predicted the students’ self-reported effort for their academic tasks. This effect can be extrapolated, highlighting that the students’ desire to learn and master the material was most strongly related to the purpose of mastery self-talk. Basically, students with a stronger orientation toward learning the content reported a using self-talk strategies more often than those who had an orientation around performance and receiving good grades. (Wolters, 1999)
Another study by Wolters & Rosenthal (2000) tested the relationship between predecisional beliefs of self-efficacy, task value, and goal orientations in relation to postdecisional strategies including mastery and performance self-talk. They found that learning goal orientation was a significant predictor of the use of both mastery and performance self-talk. Task value was also a predictor to mastery self-talk. It was found that performance goal orientation was only a predictor of performance self-talk along with an extrinsic reward-punishment strategy for motivation. Essentially, people who have an orientation toward mastery and learning goals- those who are motivated to learn are more likely to use self-talk as a strategy to maintain motivation.
Self-talk increases your effort.
Ultimately it what determines whether or not you’ll complete something you’ve started, or whether you’ll get as far as you’d like to is effort. When it comes to long-term goals, your performance is an endurance test– it’s a marathon. In order to maintain performance in your marathon, motivational self-talk can be used to regulate your effort over time. Self-talk can increase the amount of time you maintain effort in a task. In a 2013 study, researchers tested the effects of self-talk on endurance performance of participants using a cycling Time to Exhaustion test (TTE). In the test, the participants had to ride a special stationary bike at 80% peak power output for as long as they could. During the test, the participants gave their Rating of Perceived Exhaustion (RPE) through the Borg Scale of exertion (see figure). In the experiment, the participants were tested for a performance time baseline, then the test group received education in the use of motivational self-talk before taking a post-test. Results showed that the group who received motivational self-talk education had reduced levels of perceived effort, which was shown through lower levels of RPE during the physical endurance tests. This translated into the self-talking participants’ increased effort, and thus longer endurance performance. (Blanchfield et al., 2013) This study shows that the use of motivational self-talk leads to an increase in effort and longer commitment to the goal.
A similar study was conducted where multiple cycling TTE tests were done, but instead of testing endurance, the participants cycled for 10 km and their effort and pacing were measured using time to completion and power output. Their RPE was taken in intervals to create linear profile for RPE over time. In the final test, one group was given a classroom education session for mastery self-talk and chose their own phrases to give themselves during their next TTE test. The control group was provided with neutral, non-related statements during their performance. After the test, they found that the group who was given the self-talk intervention had a higher power output as well as faster times, especially in the last 40% of the trial. Another interesting find was that RPE remained linear across all tests in both groups. Additionally, the neutral self-talk group had no change in performance through the tests. (Barwood et al., 2015) Because the self-talk group’s perceived effort was lower, they were motivated to put in more effort, and as a result they had a higher performance (faster time and higher power output).
Since self-talk can lower your perceived exhaustion, it can make challenges you face seem easier than they would have otherwise, which allows you to persist through the task. This could mean the difference between feeling like you’re about to climb up the face of a rugged mountain or just walking up the stairs of your house. A little self-talk can help make starting to write that paper or going to the gym early in the morning seem like an easier hump to get over.
Barwood, M. J., Corbett, J., Wagstaff, C. R., Mcveigh, D., & Thelwell, R. C. (2015). Improvement of 10-km Time-Trial Cycling with Motivational Self-Talk Compared with Neutral Self-Talk. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 10(2), 166-171. doi:10.1123/ijspp.2014-0059
Blanchfield, A. W., Hardy, J., De Morree, H. M., Staiano, W., & Marcora, S. M. (2013, October). Talking Yourself out of Exhaustion: The Effects of Self-talk on Endurance Performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000000184
Landin, D. (1994). The role of verbal cues in skill learning. Quest, 46(3), 299-313.
Tod, D., Hardy, J., & Oliver, E. (2011). Effects of Self-Talk: A Systematic Review. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology,33(5), 666-687. doi:10.1123/jsep.33.5.666
Wolters, C. A. (1999). The relation between high school students’ motivational regulation and their use of learning strategies, effort, and classroom performance. Learning and Individual Differences, 11(3), 281-299. doi:10.1016/s1041-6080(99)80004-1
Wolters, C., & Rosenthal, H. (2000). The relation between students’ motivational beliefs and their use of motivational regulation strategies. International Journal of Educational Research, 33(7-8), 801-820. doi:10.1016/s0883-0355(00)00051-3