What is self talk?

Self-talk is an inner dialogue, usually phrases or statements, you say to yourself, either out loud or in your head. You may notice at times that you use self-talk on a daily basis during practice or performance.

Self-talk can occur automatically or strategically, where the former is spontaneous and the latter is calculated as a technique to enhance performance at varying stages.

It is important to note that self-talk can encourage optimal performance, or harm it. Self-talk does not always consist of positive or productive statements, it can also be self-defeating and self-critical.

Examples of self-talk include:

  • “I’m not good enough”
  • “You got this”
  • “Relax”
  • “Breathe”
  • “I can’t do this”
  • “Come on”
  • “Smash”
  • “Back and swing”
Self criticism
Negative perceptions of self
“There’s no way I can do this”
Arousal Regulation
“Give it my best effort”

Negative self-talk can harm performance. Thoughts, precede emotion, which precede behaviour. If you think negatively or hold pessimistic perceptions of self or your ability to perform, you are unlikely to foster the confidence and ideal mental state for optimal performance. Conversely, positive self-talk can aid performance by regulating arousal (telling yourself to relax, calm down etc), minimise maladaptive behaviours and reconstruct negative thought patterns.

Instructional Self-talk

Instructional self-talk focuses on directing your attention or movement. This form of self-talk is useful for guiding skill technique and ensuring concentration is focused on the task at hand. For example ‘relax your shoulders’ ‘take a deep breath’ ‘focus on the target’.

Motivational Self-talk

Motivational self-talk centres around fostering positive mood states, favourable for performance. This could be hyping yourself up before a big game or boosting your confidence. For example ‘let’s do this’ ‘we got this’.

What is self talk used for?

Controlling Effort

Statements that help to maintain energy

Building Self-efficacy

Positive self-talk to reinforce efficacy beliefs (useful after failure or during injury rehabilitation

Changing Mood States

Cues that trigger specific movement, linked to an emotional quality e.g. ‘blast’ for explosive movement and create congruous mood state

Attentional Control

Aid focus on the present moment and voice dwelling on past or future

Skill Acquisition

Brief statements help to learn automaticity of a skill

Changing Bad Habits

Statements used as self-instruction to break a habit and do what needs to be done

Effective v Ineffective Self-talk

The use of self-talk and which methods work best will person and goal dependent. However, there can be counterproductive ways of using self-talk which can cause greater detriment than advantage to performance.

Positively Phrased

Self-talk phrases should be worded positively rather than negatively. In this way, your self-talk focuses on what you want to achieve, not what you want to avoid. For example, “stay calm” instead of “don’t panic” in moments of high pressure instructs you to behave in a way that is optimal for performance as opposed to evading a behaviour harmful to performance.

Personal Pronouns

Self-talk phrases often include the words “you” or “I” when referring to yourself. Research shows that using ‘you’ instead of ‘I’ can be more effective. For example, “that was ok, but you have to do more next time” is considered more constructive than “that was fine but i have to do more next time.” This is because removing yourself from the situation or perceiving yourself as another person allows you to be more objective in your feedback. The latter phrase can bee seen as self-defeating, in which case would not achieve the goal of self-talk e.g. to motivate or build confidence.

Skill Matching

Practicing self-talk can help to enhance the following skills:

References, Reading and Resources

Hardy, J., Begley, K., & Blanchfield, A. W. (2015). It’s good but it’s not right: Instructional self-talk and skilled performance. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology27(2), 132-139.

Hatzigeorgiadis, A., Galanis, E., Zourbanos, N., & Theodorakis, Y. (2014). Self-talk and competitive sport performance. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology26(1), 82-95.

Kross, E., Bruehlman-Senecal, E., Park, J., Burson, A., Dougherty, A., Shablack, H., Bremner, R., Moser, J., & Ayduk, O. (2014). Self-talk as a regulatory mechanism: How you do it matters. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Latinjak, A. T., Hatzigeorgiadis, A., Comoutos, N., & Hardy, J. (2019). Speaking clearly… 10 years on: The case for an integrative perspective of self-talk in sport. Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology.

Tod, D., Hardy, J., & Oliver, EJ (2011). Effects of self-talk: A systematic review. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 33,

Van Raalte, J. L., Vincent, A., & Brewer, B. W. (2016). Self-talk: Review and sport-specific model. Psychology of Sport and Exercise22, 139-148.

Zinsser, N., Bunker, L., & Williams, J. (2006). Cognitive techniques for building confidence and enhancing performance.