Motivational vs Instructional Self-Talk – When & How to Use Them

14th October 2022

Read time: 3 minutes

This week I’m going to explain the different types of self talk, and when to best use them.
The three types of self talk I’ll talk about are: Negative, Instructional and Motivational (Positive)
We talk to ourselves all day every day. Whether it’s tasks, feeling, thoughts, motivation, judgements.
I read we talk to ourselves 50,000 times a day. Seems high, but for some of us this may be close.
When we perform, how we talk to ourselves can heavily impact the result and our perspective.
I’ve used self talk all my career. I found it a crucial part to some of my successes.
One mantra I use to have was ‘f*** it’.
Yet I know there were moments when it worked against me. And no amount of positive phrasing could get me out of an overthinking spiral.
Unfortunately, I didn’t know that it matters which type of self talk you use is situational.
So let’s take a look at the 3 types of self talk and when to use them:

📉 Negative Self Talk

I want to get this one out of the way early.
We’ve all feel this. Everyday.
I found a study on confidence with self talk a fascinating insight of the impact of negative self talk.
The study was of groups of people given a simple blind throwing task.
Group 1: Throwing instructions (Instructional Self Talk)
Group 2: Throwing instructions + Motivational Self Talk
Group 3: Throwing instructions + Negative Self Talk
Measuring confidence before and after the task found that both Group 1 & 2 had little change in confidence.
But Group 3, plummeted in confidence.
Indicating that positive and instructional self talk may act as blockers to negative self talk’s negative impact on confidence.
We’re 7 times more likely to talk negatively to ourselves so it’s important that we focus on our positive self talk.
The good news is that positive self talk comes in two forms:
Motivational and Instructional.

🚀 Motivational Self Talk

“I can do this”, “I’ve got this”, “Stay strong” are examples of motivational self talk.
It’s used to help inspire us towards a positive outcome.
It could be a mantra that you repeat to yourself over and over.
Motivational self-talk is effective to energise us towards positive actions.
For example it could be before and event to help turn negative thinking towards more positive affirmation based thinking.
During moments of fatigue or pressure it can be used to redirect our attention towards what we want to achieve, or a state we want to embody.
For example, long distance runners may start to use motivational self-talk (eg. “Dig deep”, “Keep going”) at a certain point in a run when they know negative self talk (eg. “stop running”, “this hurts”) starts to rear its ugly head.
One speed bump with motivational self talk is when we don’t make it specific or relevant to us so that we believe it, it may have little impact.
If I use a phrase “Be confident”, my mind may not know what that means.
So finding what brings you your confidence, and creating a phrase around that and knowing a moment when you’re going to need it, makes it much more relevant.
1. Pick a phrase
2. Practice it. See how it feels.
3. Plan to know when you’ll use it.

📝 Instructional Self Talk

Think about when you learn a new skill. You focus on technical cues. Telling yourself what to do in order to achieve the result.
I play golf. And when learning a new shot. I tell myself, where I should place my hands, move my arms, where I should stand and so on.
We do this to learn a new skill so that the more we practice, the more it eventually become automatic and engrained.
We can also use much shorter words to then unlock these technical cues.
For example: “Grip your right hand tight” could be turned into “tight” to trigger the understanding of that technical cue.
While all of this is great to help manage moments of pressure.
A draw back is that if we start to tell ourselves too many instructional self talk cues. We risk overthinking. Overanalysing. And revert to a more novice-like state. Something explained in reinvestment theory.
As a general rule, instructional self talk is brilliant when we are learning a skill.
But in the moment, when we are needed to perform, motivational self talk is really effective.
So can you listen to your self talk?
Do you know what you need the most ?
Replace your negative self-talk with motivational or instructional self-talk.
That’s it for this week. Hope this helped!

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