“Self-talk” refers to those words or phrases that you say to yourself silently in your head or aloud. Self-talk can influence your emotions, attention, motivation, confidence, and ultimately your performance. Some people are not aware of their self-talk, and many others do not intentionally use their self-talk as a training or performance weapon. On this page, we provide a simple structure for using your self-talk to your advantage. 


A useful first step is to notice your self-talk and the effects it has. While you are exercising, listen to your self-talk, and notice the effects it has on you. 


At this point, we recommend an IMPACT approach:

  • Identify what you want to achieve

  • Match self-talk to your needs

  • Practise different self-talk cues

  • Ascertain which work best for you

  • Create specific self-talk plans

  • Train self-talk plans to perfection


With this in mind, identify what you want to achieve by using self-talk. Examples are

  • Improving your technique

  • Remaining motivated

  • Coping with exertion or pain

  • Paying attention

  • Coping with problems

  • Controlling your nerves

  • Building confidence.


You can then pick self-talk statements that match these aims. As a rule, self-talk statements should be brief (a word or a short phrase), memorable, and purposeful for what you want to achieve. They should also “feel right” for you personally. 


Sport psychologists refer to “instructional self-talk” and “motivational self-talk”. Instructional self-talk is where you coach yourself by giving yourself instruction about things such as technique, tactics, or what to pay attention to.

  • “Pump your arms” 

  • “Today’s your day” 

  • “Keep your eyes focused straight ahead” 

  • “Let’s smash this!” 

  • “Run on toes” 


Motivational self-talk is where you use your self-talk as a source of motivation, confidence, and focus.

  • “You’re doing great – Keep it up” 

  • “Drop your shoulders” 

  • “Come on – You can push through this!” 

  • “Run through the finish line” 

  • “The end’s in sight – One last push!”  


Compare these statements with those that you observed yourself using!

You can put together a list of self-talk statements to use for a variety of purposes. 

  • When would self-talk be helpful? 

  • What do you want to achieve? 

  • What statements could help? 


For example, at the beginning of your performance, you may want to start with a sustainable pace, and chose "Steady pace". In the middle, you may want to maintain good posture and choose "Drop your shoulders". At the end, you may want to persevere through high exertion and choose “Leave nothing behind!”. You may also know that you will have periods where your motivation drops and you will have thoughts about stopping - “This is tough, but I can do it! Keep pushing!"


Next, you should practise your chosen list of self-talk statements extensively and systematically during training. Through practice, you can identify self-talk statements that work best for achieving your goals and gradually adjust them.  


Self-talk statements can be organised so that a complete self-talk plan is developed for training or an event. This plan could involve using several combinations of self-talk statements to match different situations. It can include statements to use at different distances of a training or competitive performance, and in specific situations. For example, a person running in their first half-marathon may use something like the following: 

  • First mile - "Run your own race” 

  • Miles 2-3 - “Watch your pace” 

  • Middle miles - “Drop your shoulders”, “Come on, keep pushing”

  • Towards the end - “Dig deep – You can do it!”

  • Final mile - “Leave nothing behind!” 

  • Sections with no crowd - “You’re doing great. Let’s keep it going!” 

  • If doubting finishing - “You can and you will” 

  • You can’t maintain a target pace - “Drop your pace and adjust your goal” 


Finally, you are encouraged to practise your self-talk plan in training and then in events, so that strategic use of helpful self-talk statements becomes more automatic, and so that strategies are tested and familiar before an important event. For example, you could practise the self-talk that you have prepared for a half-marathon (e.g., as above) during equivalent distances of a preparatory 10km run. Similarly, if you plan to use motivational self-talk during sprint finishes, you could practise your statements in repeated, high-intensity intervals during training. 

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