'I Think I Can:' How Talking to Yourself Brings Self-Improvement

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If you want to get better at doing something, simply telling yourself "I can do better next time" may help, according to a new study.

Researchers found that people who practiced such so-called "self-talk" ─ for example, those who told themselves, "I can beat my best score," or "I can react quicker this time" ─ improved their performance in an online game more than those who did not.

The new results show that preparing yourself mentally before a challenging task, such as giving a speech or going to a job interview, by telling yourself "I will do my best" may be an effective way to help improve performance, said study author Andrew Lane, a professor of sport psychology at the University of Wolverhampton in the U.K. [10 Things You Didn't Know About You]

In the study, the researchers assigned about 44,000 people to 13 different groups. Twelve of the groups watched videos that trained them in a different motivational technique such as self-talk, while one group, which served as a control, only watched a basic instructional video that did not involve any such techniques.

The researchers then asked the participants to play an online game that involved finding numbers on a grid and clicking on them in sequence, from 1 to 36, as quickly as possible.

The participants played the game four times: first during a practice round, then second during a baseline round, third after a video training, and then again after the training was repeated.

The researchers measured how much the participantsꞌ performance improved over the four rounds of the game, and then compared how effective the different motivational techniques were at helping the people improve their performance.                                            

In addition to self-talk, imagining oneself playing the game and beating one's best score, or imagining oneself playing and reacting more quickly than last time, also seemed to help people perform better with each round, the researchers found.

In contrast, a motivational technique that involved a more complex scenario, such as telling oneself: "If I start worrying about mistakes, then I will say to myself ꞌGood performance last time. I can do it again!ꞌ" was not as effective for improving performance as the other techniques, according to the study, published in March in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

The new findings show that the interventions that were most effective at helping people improve their performance were the ones that were the simplest, Lane told Live Science.

Throughout the experiments, the participants also watched motivational videos starring four-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Johnson, an athlete who is known for advocating mental preparedness in addition to physical training.  Watching these videos also seemed to help the participants improve their performance, the researchers found. [9 DIY Ways to Improve Your Mental Health]

Future studies should focus on technology that could be used to develop interesting and engaging ways to teach and investigate the effectiveness of similar psychological techniques, the researchers said.

Originally published on Live Science.

Staff Writer