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Self-talk for performance is like the secret weapon you didn’t know you had.  Your body only gets you so far, and a lot of the time it’s your mind that gets you to the finish line. If you’re challenging yourself, there’s no doubt been moments of wanting to quit- or maybe you actually have quit a time or two.  Self-talk in sports is a common thread, but working on your self-talk for anything in your life is key to optimism, resilience, and even equanimity.  I like to say “the most powerful voice in the world is the one inside your own head, and it’s the only voice that is with you your entire life.”

This podcast is a talk I gave for the TransRockies virtual training camp. It’s also with great excitement I’m announcing that enrollments for my Moxy & Grit Mindset Academy are now open.  You can find it at and also on my website:

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The course is all about training mental toughness and the skills you need to be your best on race day and beyond.  The course has 4 main modules:  Goals & Habits, Motivation & Mindset, Self-Talk & Optimism, and Race Day Confidence.  I’ve taken the wisdom of my podcast guests over the years, many books by Phds and experts I’ve read over the last 6 years, and my own real-world experience to bring to you an actionable, engaging course.  Also included is a digital workbook where I’ve taken some key lessons from positive psychology and productivity to help you move forward to build confidence, grit, and set goals based on identity and process.

But back to today’s podcast- it’s a chip off the iceberg from the topic of self-talk for performance.  Today, I give an overview to some topics I cover in detail in my course.  Things like:

Topics Discussed in the Podcast 

  • Defining self-talk
  • types of self-talk
  • how to make self-talk more effective
  • changing your explanatory style
  • powerful mantras

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What is Self-Talk?

Self-talk is your inner narrative. It’s asking yourself questions like “what am I saying to myself?” and then building awareness around it. And then the second question you can ask yourself is “what insight can I gain from my self talk?”  The awareness piece is just the beginning and the insight part? Well now you’re cooking with gas.  Being able to train self-talk is a skill. It’s trainable, and it’s a tool that is so helpful.

Negative self-talk is a slippery slope. Everyone experiences it at times. I’m sure we’ve all had the following thoughts: I suck, I’m slow, I’m not good enough. I can’t do it. I’m going to crash. And you can even have these thoughts when things are going well.  That’s self-talk for performance is key!

And another level of negative self-talk is whenever you start personalizing things that happen. So whenever you fail at something, you start saying I am a failure or if you lost a race. Sounds extreme to say I am a loser. But that’s the personalization of losing. I am a failure. I’m a loser. And whenever you start personalizing that, it makes it incredibly toxic.

On the other hand, positive self-talk helps you perform better, it builds your confidence and efficacy, and it starts with the mindful awareness to realize what you’re saying and when in the first place.  It’s something you have to train before race day.

Motivational and Instructional Self-Talk

There are two types of self-talk: motivational and instructional. Motivational self-talk is saying things like “You got this!” or “You can do this!”  Research says talking to yourself in the second person is the most effective.

Instructional Self-Talk is telling yourself how to do something- like a skill.  For cornering on your bike- saying things like, “Brake early, look through the corner, bike body separation…low, look, lean!”

Changing Your Explanatory Style

Explanatory Style was coined by the “godfather” of positive psychology, Martin Seligman.  I love this topic and have talked about it on my podcast before.  Definitely check out this episode.

Your Explanatory Style is how you tell yourself a story about something happened- how you perceive an incident.

Choosing what you focus on includes choosing the way you perceive what’s happening around you. The way we explain our world and daily events that happen to us deeply affect whether we have an optimistic or pessimistic view of the world. It affects whether we feel empowered or helpless. Learned helplessness is what makes you give up because you think that you don’t have any control over something- it’s the belief that your actions really won’t change the outcome. Your explanatory style ultimately determines how you view misfortunes and whether or not you’ll give up easily.  That’s why self-talk for performance is so essential!

In The Happiness Advantage (one of my favorite books!), Shawn Achor reports research by Martin Seligman that people’s explanatory style is often a good predictor of success in everything from sports to sales to even recovery from surgery. Being aware of how you describe situations to yourself is massively important. For example, someone who has whiplash in a car accident could say, “Bad things always happen to me. My neck hurts, I’m uncomfortable and I wish that never happened.” Or they could say, “It’s unfortunate that I got into a car accident, but it could have been way worse! I got lucky.” See the difference? You don’t have to negate feelings of frustration, anger, or sadness, but it’s important how you tell yourself the story surrounding those feelings. Achor recommends, “Choose a counterfact (an alternative reaction to a scenario) that makes us feel positive rather than helpless.”

In my course and in my book- Partly Sunny, Cultivating a Resilient Mind, I go into detail on how you can use explanatory style for sports.

Powerful Mantras

Choose meaningful phrases and repeat them to yourself both in training and in races.

Personal mantras I use:

  • Show Up
  • The Work is the Reward
  • You Got This
  • The Burn is Your Friend
  • This is Me Getting Better
  • Keep Going

I put some of these on bicycle stem caps. You can get them here.

If you like this style of podcasts, check out my Crush It Monday Series dedicated to mindset.


Train Your Mind with Me in the Moxy & Grit Mindset Academy!

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