Improve Motor Performance with Self-Talk and Mindfulness

Improve Motor Performance with Self-Talk and Mindfulness


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“From time to time today, ask yourself the simple question, What is on my mind? Do you notice that you are thinking mostly in images, words, or both? After being aware of one thought, ask yourself: I wonder what thought will come up next? Be curious about how your mind is so quick to judge yourself and other people. Do you notice how these various mind states—thoughts and images—are constantly changing?” – Bob Stahl


Mindfulness training has been shown through extensive research to be effective in improving the physical and psychological condition of otherwise healthy people and also treating the physical and psychological issues of people with illnesses. This has led to an increasing adoption of mindfulness techniques for the health and well-being of both healthy and ill individuals.


Humans have an internal voice. “self-talk is a cognitive strategy that individuals use to talk to themselves either silently or aloud to interpret lived perceptions, to change evaluations and beliefs, and to give instructions or reinforcements.”  This self-talk can be positive, motivational, or instructional which generally have beneficial effects. But it can also be negative leading to worry (concern about the future) and rumination (repetitive thinking about the past). This negative self-talk is associated with mental illness, particularly anxiety and depression. Fortunately, worry and rumination may be interrupted by mindfulness and emotion regulation can be improved by mindfulness.


There is very little research on the relationship of mindfulness with self-talk. In today’s Research News article “Interaction of mindfulness disposition and instructional self-talk on motor performance: a laboratory exploration.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at:, Chiu and colleagues recruited undergraduate students from a physical education class and had them complete a measure of mindfulness. The students then performed two motor tasks, a standing long jump or a fine line tracking test. They were instructed in self-talk before each task either instructional in nature (“focus on the center of the groove of the panel and move it as fast as possible!”) or unrelated to the motor tasks (“the weather today, my clothes’ colors, or my pets’ names.”). They were asked to engage in the appropriate self-talk during the execution of the tasks.


They found that self-talk, but not mindfulness, had a significant effect on the standing long jump with the instructional self-talk producing longer jumps than the unrelated self-talk. With the fine line tracking test, they found than mindfulness produced significantly better performance only when the self-talk was unrelated to the task and not when it was instructional.


These results demonstrate that self-talk is helpful when it is instructional in nature but disruptive when it is unrelated to the task at hand. This suggests that mind wandering disrupts motor performance while reminding oneself with self-talk how to perform the task is beneficial. The results also suggest that mindfulness is beneficial with fine motor tasks when self-talk is unrelated. This suggests that mindfulness tends to counteract the effects of mind wandering when precise movements are required.


So, improve motor performance with self-talk and mindfulness.


“This inner voice combines conscious thoughts with unconscious beliefs and biases. . . . This voice is useful when it is positive, talking down fears and bolstering confidence. Human nature is prone to negative self-talk, however, and sweeping assertions like “I can’t do anything right” or “I’m a complete failure” are common diatribes. This negativity can be unrealistic and even harmful, paralyzing people into inaction and self-absorption to the point of being unaware of the world around them. The good news: That negative inner critic can and should be challenged; becoming more aware of it is just a first step.” – Psychology Today


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary


Chiu, Y. H., Lu, F., Gill, D. L., Lin, T. W., Chang, C. C., & Wu, S. C. (2019). Interaction of mindfulness disposition and instructional self-talk on motor performance: a laboratory exploration. PeerJ, 7, e7034. doi:10.7717/peerj.7034



In considering that high mindfulness disposition individuals possess a unique ability to maintain attention and awareness, and attention is one of the key mechanisms of instructional self-talk, the purpose of this study was to examine the interaction of mindfulness disposition and instructional self-talk on motor performance. Forty-nine college students (M age = 18.96 ± 1.08) with high/low mindfulness disposition (high n = 23; low n = 26) selected out of 126 college students performed a discrete motor task (standing long jump) and a continuous motor task (line tracking task) under instructional and unrelated self-talk conditions. Two separate 2 (self-talk type) X 2 (high/low mindfulness) mixed design ANOVA statistical analyses indicated that mindfulness disposition interacted with unrelated self-talk in the line tracking task. Specifically, low mindfulness participants performed poorer than high mindfulness participants in line tracking task under unrelated self-talk. Further, participants performed better in both standing long jump and line tracking under instructional self-talk than unrelated self-talk. Results not only revealed the triangular relationships among mindfulness, self-talk, and motor performance but also indirectly support the role of attention in self-talk effectiveness. Limitations, future research directions, and practical implications were discussed.


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