Do this to improve your performance
How much can positive self-talk tangibly improve our performance?
A lot, according to a large new study.
British researchers took 44,000 people and tested how different psychological skills affect performance.
Previous research has found that certain skills can be more or less effective in different environments, but no study has compared the types of skills.
So, for the new study, participants were randomly divided into groups and trained in one of three different skills: positive self-talk (“I can do better next time” or “I can beat my best score” for example), visualisation techniques (imagining themselves doing something better than they had previously) or if-then planning like “If I start to doubt myself…then I will remind myself I have the skills!”
Along with a control group, participants then performed various performance-based challenges. They were given four chances on each test – a practice round, a baseline round, a post-intervention round, using their newly-learned skill, and a final round again using the skill.
While everyone improved by the fourth round (practice makes better if not perfect!), the self-talk and imagery groups were miles ahead of the rest.
Additionally, the self-talk group came out on top in terms of their positive feelings about the tasks.
“A key message from the findings of the present study is that a brief self-talk intervention focused on motivational outcomes just prior to performance intensified pleasant emotions, arousal, and effort and led to improved performance,” the paper’s authors said.
They added that the study’s tasks may have been inappropriate for the if-then planning technique.
“If-then planning works well when individuals are faced with multiple decision-making options and make incorrect ones following reflection, such as dietary choices or where there is a specific trigger to the negative response,” they said. “We suggest ‘if-then’ planning is more suitable to tasks where people make incorrect decisions, and results of the present study show that errors made was not a significant factor to explain poor performance.”
Jill MacNaught, director of the Executive Coach, says the findings are compelling.
“This study gives some valuable empirical support to a long held view that positive thinking is a useful enabler in many areas of performance, and in our overall achievement of life goals,” MacNaught says. “Importantly also, what we strive for needs to matter, and to resonate with what we hold dear (what we most value).”
Aligning positive thought with our values is only one part of the equation, MacNaught points out.
“The study also acknowledges that positive thinking alone does not work without practice and considerable effort,” she says.
“Few people who have achieved significant success in a range of areas in life would say they got there without discipline and hard work.”
That said, attitude can make more of a difference than we realise.
“Holding clear intentions for a desired outcome, with a positive focus on how a person intends to go about achieving their goal, has reportedly been a key ingredient in the various successes of high achievers. This was confirmed by this study,” MacNaught says, before adding that positive thinking still has limitations.
“There needs to be a belief that this is a realistic thought, as opposed to some magical thinking,” MacNaught explains. “Past learning, reflection on experience including failures, are all part of the mix.”
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