When it comes to performance, how you think and what you say to yourself matters. In fact, both
can help you regulate your emotions and energy, feel confident, improve coordination and fine
motor skills, enhance focus, and more. When you mentally or verbally say your thoughts to
yourself, it’s called “self-talk.” Using effective self-talk can improve your performance, help you learn new skills more quickly and effectively, and help you stay composed and motivated when
it’s time to execute. To get the most from self-talk, develop statements specific to you and to what you’re doing. There are two basic kinds of self-talk—instructional and motivational—that can help you
develop statements so you can carry out tasks with precision and confidence.
Instructional self-talk involves step-by-step reminders that talk you through what you’re doing. It’s especially useful when you’re learning a new task, because it can help you remember all the
necessary steps. This method can enable you to break down simple or complex tasks and
improve focus for activities that require fine motor skills, so you can complete them with greater
accuracy. Think back to the first time you learned how to handle your weapon out on the range. You
probably felt a lot of pressure and anxiety the first time you were asked to aim for a target. This
is a situation where you might have needed to “talk” your way through it: “Steady position…butt
stock tight in the pocket of the shoulder...cheek to stock weld...firing hand firm grip…breathe.”
To develop effective instructional self-talk statements, it’s important to make sure the steps are
accurate to begin with. In uniform, these statements help to refine technique and develop tactical
skills. Family members and children can also use instructional self-talk to learn difficult skills as
well, such as learning to throw a curve-ball for the first time or how to rock climb. Any task that
requires mastery can benefit from instructional self-talk. Motivational self-talk is less specific and consists of phrases that encourage you to keep going
and work through challenges. On days when your motivation is flagging, or perhaps when you
have to engage in a task you’re not in the right frame of mind for, these phrases can help you get
psyched up, back on course, or calmed down. Motivational statements boost performance by building confidence, reducing jitters, and improving mood.
It’s zero dark thirty and you have to go out on patrol. Statements such as “It’s go time!” or
“Always mission ready!” are examples of this kind of self-talk that can help boost energy and
confidence in difficult situations. They motivate you to get primed and ready for action. If you
encounter high levels of anxiety while on patrol, statements such as “I got this” can release
nervousness during tense situations. Simply repeating the word “focus” can help you concentrate
on the task at hand.
Everyday tasks also benefit from motivational self-talk. When you wake up
in the morning and don’t want to go to the gym, or when a child walks into a classroom to take a
test, motivational self-talk can help provide a boost of energy or confidence when family
members need it the most. You say thousands of things to yourself in a single day, but you’re probably not intentional about
when to use motivational or instructional self-talk to help you be successful, both in uniform and
at home. The next time you approach a situation to learn a new tactical skill, try identifying phrases
that help you hone that skill and lay out the steps with instructional self talk.
And when you’re
not feeling up to or confident about tackling a task, try playing with motivational self talk to help
you get it done!