It has long been said that endurance sports are 90 percent mental. Even when you put in all the necessary physical training, if your mind isn't in the right place prior to and during competition, you don't stand a chance. Despite that fact, many of us end up neglecting the brain training necessary to set us up for success. The latest research on the subject underscores its importance, showing that we are actually capable of talking ourselves out of exhaustion when exercising, which has the potential to boost performance.
The study, published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise, looked at the relationship between positive self-talk and performance. Positive self-talk encompasses just about anything constructive and upbeat you may tell yourself when running or exercising. At the outset of this particular study, researchers had participants ride exercise bikes while they measured their times and peak power output. Upon splitting the groups into two, one received instruction on motivational self-talk and the other got no such instruction.
When they brought the groups back to the lab for another session, the motivational self-talk group improved their times and reported less perceived exertion. On the other hand, no such effect was observed in the control group.
This is a particularly important finding because it shows that not only is motivational self-talk effective, but it also demonstrates that it doesn't take a whole lot of extra time or effort to see results.
Clinical and performance psychologist Dr. Peter Temple says that a positive thought process is necessary for any athlete looking to excel at his or her chosen sport.
"Think of great athletes when things are going badly," he says. "What do they look like? How do they act? They're not panicking. They're not beating themselves up. If we could access their inner dialogue it would be more akin to, 'Just keep working, you'll be fine,' than, 'What the heck is wrong with you?'"
Learning to utilize positive self-talk effectively is the tricky part. Temple suggests that athletes look at the body and mind as one complete system that works together to elicit successful performances.