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Why talking to yourself is the best (and simplest) kind of motivation

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Whether it’s the burble of an interior monologue or the odd out-loud mumble, everybody talks to themselves. And that’s a good thing. What’s known in psychology as ‘self-talk’ can be a valuable way of boosting memory, sorting through emotions, and remaining calm in stressful situations.

And according to a major new British study, it’s also the most effective motivational method around.

In an experiment run in conjunction with BBC Lab UK, over 44,000 people played a competitive online game, using different motivational techniques to see which one was most effective.

Three groups tested different methods to see which would be the most useful: self-talk, imagery, and ‘if-then’ planning. Researchers found that people who used ‘self-talk’ to motivate themselves – for example, reassuring themselves, “I can do better next time” – performed better than the control group in every part of the task.

Essentially, you’re much more likely to succeed if you tell yourself: “I’ve got this.”

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‘If-then’ planning – that is, telling yourself, “If X happens, then I will do Y” – has been shown to be a powerful method of helping with weight management and other challenges. However, it wasn't found to be a particularly effective method of motivation in this study, suggesting that it might not be so useful in competitive situations.

The experiment was led by Professor Andrew Lane, professor of sport psychology at the University of Wolverhampton. He described the results as “inspirational and educational”.

Writing in the Frontiers in Psychology journal, Professor Lane and his colleagues point out the importance of being able to motivate ourselves in a competitive environment – because whether we’re taking part in sports, going for a job interview or making a business deal, competition is a part of life.

Delivering “psychological skills that help people regulate emotions and cope with the demands of competition” through interventions such as online games “would have large appeal”, the researchers write.

Since the study took place, Professor Lane and his colleagues have been working on online games to help people manage their emotions and motivation in a range of contexts – from speaking in public to fighting in a boxing ring.

Image: iStock

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