Can You Talk Yourself Out of Exhaustion?

You know the moment. The one when fatigue threatens to slow you, when that little voice says maybe you should back off just a little, that you can’t keep working this hard.

To push through it, all you may need to do is tell yourself to hold on.

Such is the takeaway from a novel study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise that examines the effect of self-talk on perceived exertion and performance.

In the study, 24 recreational cyclists rode as long as they could at 80% of their peak power output, and their times were recorded. Subjects were then divided into two groups. One group was given instruction in motivational self-talk. The other received no mental training.

Two weeks later, the cyclists repeated the time-to-exhaustion test. Riders who had received self-talk instruction were reminded to use the four statements they had selected during their mental training instruction (phrases such as “feeling good,” “drive forward,” and “push through this”). The control group was given no motivational instruction.

The cyclists who used self-talk reported a nearly 1-point drop on a 10-point scale of perceived exertion and improved their time by 18%. No significant changes in perceived effort or time were recorded by the control group.

Self-talk, of course, has been an effective sports psychology tool for years. This study is the first to show a direct link between the mantras and phrases we repeat to ourselves and their influence on how we feel – and whether we keep going.

Most experts believe the most effective mantras are the ones we develop ourselves. Finding yours is simply a matter of listening and experimenting.

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