Coaching Yourself with Positive Self-Talk

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BetterUp Studios

5 min

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If you find that you’re your own harshest critic, then why not spend that same energy on becoming your own biggest cheerleader? Sports psychologist Antonis Hatzigeorgiadis suggests that the simple habit of self-talk—prepared cues or phrases that we tell ourselves to trigger desired responses—can dramatically improve our performance.

But, not all self-talk is created equal. Instructional self-talk (“Keep your chin up during this deadlift!”) helps with improving technique, while motivational self-talk (“You’re already a champion!”) helps best for strength and endurance tasks, especially if there’s an audience. Moreover, positive self-talk (“Stay calm!”) is much more effective than negative self-talk (“Don’t freak out!”).

With this activity, devise a self-talk cue that will help you reach your goals.


  1. Identify a goal you’d like to achieve. This might be a task that’s causing you actual stress, like a presentation to key stakeholders, or it might be a benchmark you’ve been trying to reach, like running a ten-minute mile.

  2. Find some time to quiet your thoughts, then reflect on the ways you tend to talk to yourself about your goal. Even if you don’t actively doubt that you can reach your goal, consider some ways in which you could better incorporate pointers that you’ve been given, or champion your own efforts.

  3. Now, take out a piece of paper and a pencil, and jot down some ideas for positive self-talk cues that meet your specific needs. Try to address these in the second-person (“Keep your speech slow for this presentation!”) and come up with a mix of technique-focused guidance (“Keep your shoulders rolled back and down!”) and words of encouragement (“Let stress fall like water off a duck’s back”).
    Experiment using positive self-talk to help you meet work, exercise, and social goals.

Positive self-talk is likely to feel awkward and maybe even a little cheesy at first. However, as you practice, it will start to feel more natural and more effective as a trigger. It might help to think of self-talk as a ritual that you perform to give yourself an edge.

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