Coaching

How to Hype Yourself Up for Your Best Performance

Bridge statements filter overly positive self-talk through a more realistic lens, for that just-right motivation. Try one today.

Last updated: June 24, 2021
The Best Type of Self-Talk to Improve Your Performance

Purposely or not, you’ve probably used self-talk during a workout. There’s the positive kind, where you amp yourself up with unspoken thoughts directed toward yourself: “You can do it!” or “Don’t give up!” Then there’s the negative type: “This feels too hard” or “I can’t keep up.”

As you might assume, positive self-talk can result in a better training experience. Not only can it feed a healthier self-image, but it could improve performance too, according to a meta-analysis published in the journal “Perspectives on Psychological Science.” Talking yourself up (particularly when combined with visualization and goal setting) can help boost athletic endurance, according to a review published in the journal “Sports Medicine,” and it may also make your workout feel less intense, suggests research published in the journal “Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.” And using compassionate language in particular can translate into more energy and a lower heart rate, shows research from the journal “Clinical Psychological Science.”

That said, there’s a fine line between positive and overly positive self-talk. The latter can actually work against you, because it can feel less realistic. “If your mind rejects your positive self-talk statement, it’s worse than having no statement at all,” says sport psychologist Jonathan Fader, PhD, the author of “Life as Sport: What Top Athletes Can Teach You About How to Win in Life.” “When you overpromise yourself and don’t deliver, it diminishes your self-efficacy, or your sense of what you’re capable of.”

“If your mind rejects your positive self-talk statement, it’s worse than having no statement at all.”

Jonathan Fader, Sport Psychologist, PhD, and Author of “Life as Sport: What Top Athletes Can Teach You About How to Win in Life.”

Say you use a phrase like “You totally got this!” to pump yourself up for your very first chin-up or a weight-lifting PR that’s 20 pounds heavier than your previous one, but you don’t hit your goal. You’re more likely to get caught up in what you didn’t accomplish versus what you did (maybe you pulled yourself halfway up or improved your PR by 5 pounds). This can potentially lower your confidence for the future, which could discourage you from ever trying again, says Fader.

What’s more, too-enthusiastic language can frustrate you even more if you’re faking it. “When you’re just not feeling it, you’re likely going to react with negative emotions,” says Gloria Petruzzelli, PsyD, a licensed clinical and sport psychologist in the athletics department at Sacramento State. That can stop you in your tracks.

The Self-Talk Strategy That Can Keep You Moving

Some psychologists recommend what they call “bridge statements.” These soften the contradiction between what you’re thinking and what you’re physically experiencing, says Petruzzelli, creating a “bridge” between the two opposing sentiments.

They also draw on past experiences to ground your positive self-talk in reality. For example, instead of telling yourself, “I’m going to crush this race because my last 10K was so fast” before your first half-marathon, you might tell yourself something like, “This will be the farthest I’ve ever run, which will feel tough at times, but I’m up for the challenge.” The former might indeed be true, but the latter is more considerate of the situation.

Bridge statements tend to work because they’re based in objective optimism, says Fader, which actually isn’t an oxymoron. “Optimistic self-talk is only helpful if it’s based in facts,” he explains — without any truth, it might be hard to convince yourself of something. Bridge statements are also neutral, which helps you be more open-minded and flexible in your mentality before, during and after a workout or event. “Instead of letting your emotions dictate your behaviors, bridge statements redirect your focus to what you can control and what’s possible in the moment,” adds Petruzzelli.

How to Use Bridge Statements

  1. Ground yourself in reality.
    If you’re psyching yourself up for a workout or event, you want to swap vague affirmations for fact-based statements, says Fader. Think: “I’ve made it through this workout before” or “I’ve run fast despite feeling tired in the past.” “These statements don't assume you're necessarily going to have the same results, but they do assume that they’re possible,” says Fader. They also make it easier to come up with a plan for when you start to struggle, he adds. “You can tell yourself something like, ‘I know I’ll feel beat around halfway through, so I’ll focus on my breathing and form and keep putting in my best effort.’”
  2. Script in real time.
    When you hit a tough point in a workout, Fader recommends focusing on in-the-moment instructional statements, like “One rep or mile at a time,” because they keep you present, while lofty “You can do this!” platitudes don’t match how you’re feeling. If you’re hiking and look up at the summit and think, “Wow, this is going to take forever,” that hike is going to feel overwhelming, says Petruzzelli. But if you say, “I can hike for 30 minutes and see how far that gets me,” that feels a whole lot more reasonable (and you’re more likely to find you can go for another 30, and maybe even another).
  3. Redefine metrics of success.
    Training isn’t just about hitting a goal time or lifting a certain weight. “Focusing on outcomes is an all-or-nothing mentality — we’re only giving ourselves a fifty-fifty chance at feeling successful,” says Petruzzelli. Post-workout, ask yourself: Did you stay focused? Did you push through without taking a break? How much effort did you give under the circumstances, which change day to day? Considering specific wins from your session instead of just the end result will make you feel more accomplished — and better equipped to tackle the next session. Plus, you’ll have banked some reality to refine your self-talk technique for good, be it for your training or any other area of your life.

Talking to yourself (even if it’s only in your head) can feel a little...weird. Whichever statements you decide to use, “Try it out for a week or so to see how you feel,” says Fader. “Too often, we don’t really give self-talk a chance to take full effect.”

The Best Type of Self-Talk to Improve Your Performance

Take It Further

For more expert-backed guidance on mindset, as well as movement, nutrition, recovery and sleep, check out the Nike Training Club app.

The Best Type of Self-Talk to Improve Your Performance

Take It Further

For more expert-backed guidance on mindset, as well as movement, nutrition, recovery and sleep, check out the Nike Training Club app.

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