The crucial role self-talk plays in getting better at something

self-talkThe last few years have seen the importance of mindset heavily promoted by Stanford’s Carol Dweck.  She believes that there are two types of people, those with a fixed mindset and those with a growth mindset.

The fixed mindset is the kind of thinking that believes we’re largely stuck with the abilities and talents we’re born with.  People with this mindset believe intelligence is a relatively static entity, and they tend to therefore look for ways in which they can show off their intelligence.

People with the growth mindset tend to regard intelligence as something that has to be developed.  It’s akin to thinking of our brain as a muscle, and as with every muscle, it becomes stronger the more it’s trained.  This belief lends itself nicely to a desire for constant improvement.

Belief in better

A recent study highlights the potential for mindset to drive our performance.  The research saw over 44,000 people take part in an experiment conducted via the BBC Lab UK to explore which motivational methods would improve our performance in an online game.

The researchers tested three distinct means of self-motivation:

  1. self-talk
  2. imagery
  3. if-then planning

When the results were analyzed, by far the most effective method was ‘self-talk’, in which participants would try and convince themselves that they would do better.

Players in this group improved both in the results they achieved, and the processes by which they went about achieving those results.

It’s a nice example of what’s known as the Pygmalion Effect, whereby our perceptions greatly influence our reality.  In other words, if we think something, or someone, is going to be great, then the odds are that is exactly what will happen.

The findings from this game based study are notable because the huge player pool far exceeds the number of participants usually attracted to social research.  As such, they provide us all with a bit of hope that we can relatively easily get better at tasks that matter to us.



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