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More PsychNotes: Performance, Success and Goal Attainment

August 3, 2016       

Motivational Psychology: Or, How Everyone Can Benefit From Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
by Monica A. Frank, PhD

success failure signpost With the Olympics occurring soon you might notice in the interviews with these elite athletes they will talk about psychological principles they use to win. They might not use the same terms but they will describe how they talk to themselves to improve motivation and performance. They will describe how they visualize their performance. They will describe how they focus mindfully and let go of other distractions. Many of these elite athletes have the same level of skill so success may hinge upon how well they are able to use these psychological methods.

However, you don't need to be an Olympic athlete to benefit from these methods. You don't even need to apply them to sports training. These methods can be used at work, other types of competitive activities, any kind of performance, or any area of life in which you want to improve your outcome.

A research study with almost 45,000 online participants (Lane et al., 2016) showed that imagery and self-talk motivational methods resulted in faster performances, higher arousal, and greater effort towards the desired outcomes. Also, self-talk methods which focused on the specific steps or techniques (process) or on improving outcome were more likely than other methods to be associated with intense pleasant emotions. Although imagery and self-talk were both effective, people tended to believe more in the benefit of self-talk perhaps because they are more familiar with it or it is easier to learn and use than imagery methods.

Examples of Different Types of Self-talk

All four types of self-talk were shown to improve performance. What they all have in common, however, is a specific and positive focus. Self-talk often involves a combination of these different types:

1) Process. Self-talk that focuses on improving specific aspects of the skills involved in the activities is described as “process” self-talk. Examples: “I can respond more quickly” or “I will stay focused on the main points of my speech.”

2) Outcome. Self-talk can focus on the desired outcome of the activity. Examples: “I will try to beat my previous time” or “I will increase my rate of sales.”

3) Arousal control. Depending on the task a person may need a high level of arousal or a low level of arousal so arousal control focuses on creating the best level of arousal. Examples: “I need to get my energy up for this” or “I do better when I can calmly focus.”

4) Instruction. Self-talk can focus on specific instructions to achieve the desired outcome. Examples: “I'm more likely to make a good impression by listening attentively before I respond” or “I can respond more quickly by focusing completely on the task.”

If you want to learn more about these techniques, Excel At Life provides audios for both general motivation as well as specific to sports and competition or even weight control.

Lane, A.M., Totterdell, P., MacDonald, I., Devonport, T.J., Friesen, A., Beedie, C., Damian, S. and Nevill, A. (2016). Brief online training enhances competitive performance: Findings of the BBC Lab UK psychological skills intervention study. Frontiers in Psychology, 5. DOI:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00413

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Dr. Monica Frank

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