Want To Be Successful? You Should Talk To Yourself More

Who cares if you sound crazy. A new study shows talking to yourself can boost your job performance.

"C’mon Lisa, you can do this." I repeat this mantra to myself whenever I get stuck on a problem. While saying this in the middle of my neighborhood coffee shop may make me look like a crazy person, a new study from the University of Illinois, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology says I may be doing the best thing to boost my chances of success.

Psychologists call this self-talk. While previous studies have found self-talk can boost willpower and help you psych yourself up when you need to get through a difficult task or to calm nerves before an important presentation or meeting, the study, led by psychologist Dr. Sanda Dolcos, found the pronoun we use to talk to ourselves also matters.

"You" versus "I"

Using the pronoun "you"—as in "you’re going to do a fantastic presentation today" is more effective than using "I." In the study, students were asked to write out self-advice while completing anagrams. Half the students were asked to address themselves as "I" while the other half were instructed to use the second-person "you." When using "you," the students not only completed more anagrams but said they would be happier to work on more in the future compared with students who used the first-person self-talk or students who gave themselves no advice at all.

Why Second-person self-talk is motivational.

Dolcos speculates that second-person self-talk may be more beneficial because it triggers memories of receiving support and encouragement from parents and teachers in childhood. "That’s the way we grow up, with our parents and others encouraging us, telling us ‘you can do it,' ‘you are good,'" she says. Using the second person is also how we give advice to others and Dolcos says may help us get a better perspective on the situation, allowing us to view the event in the way a significant other may see it and reproduce the kind of encouragements others would provide. "The first person is usually more emotional," she says.

Self-talk provides social support, even when others aren’t present.

People who lack social support from peers or loved ones can benefit from using second-person self-talk to get the same benefits of a support system without actually interacting with other people.

Motivational quotes versus self-talk

While motivational quotes plastered around your desk may also be beneficial, Dolcos says self-talk is more effective as it can be adjusted to meet an individual’s unique needs and interests. "The words you choose will be very personal to what you need to hear," says Dolcos.

You can psych yourself up without appearing to be crazy. Writing your self-advice may be as effective as verbal self-talk. The students in Dolcos’s study were instructed to write their self-advice, although Dolcos says the effect could be attributed to the fact that writing is a therapeutic tool, she says further research is needed to determine whether self-talk is more beneficial when given verbally or written.

The next time you find yourself in a demanding situation where you need a boost, don’t be afraid to tell yourself "you can do it."

[Image: Niels Hariot via Shutterstock]

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4 Comments

  • Rather insightful article. Confirms what I've always suspected "talk to yourself often, its healthy and productive.' Pep talks in any form boost self confidence. They can be part of a healthy private exercise in self reflection, self actualization, problem solving, and innovation strategies. Given the findings of the study, I'll be encouraging entrepreneurs to find creative ways to integrate self talk into their business development strategies.

  • Lisa, This is a very interesting article. I've often asked myself if "self-talk" was beneficial for me. Also, I find myself more engaged when I talk to myself which in turn creates a better outcome on whatever task I'm doing.

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  • info

    Lisa, Thank for your writing this article and sharing the new research. If one were to think about it, each of us as human beings have just one person with whom we communicate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, every year of our lives, and that is ourselves!

    We must master our "self-communication." I love the distinction the research is suggesting between using "you" vs. "I."

    Last month I concluded my first training in a program entitled, "Communication Power for Leaders" and we spent 1/3 of the course focusing on "self-talk" or what I call "internal dialogue" practicing strategies similar to what your article suggests.

    I will add this research as a point of reference to my next training. Anyone looking to improve self-esteem & self-confidence must master "self-talk." Next month in "Communication Power for Leaders" they can practice and get personal coaching.

    Learn more visit http://www.CommunicationPowerForLeaders.com

    Nice work Lisa, Thanks! Skip

  • Rebecca Cortright

    I enjoyed reading your article Lisa! I do apply positive self talk and positive declarations every day, the moment I wake up in the morning. I learned it from listening to several personal help audios while I'm driving to or off from work. We become successful the way we program ourselves.

    By the way I will also take the opportunity to introduce our website which is Take This Job Or Shove It (http://takethisjoborshoveit.com/) that allows employees to voice out what they feel towards their work and their company.

    I hope I made some good sense in my comment :) Thanks again. Rebecca