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How to Give Yourself a Pep Talk

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on August 30, 2021

Pep talks, also known as positive self-talk, are an internal dialogue you can use to process different situations and obstacles. This dialogue can be thought or spoken out loud.‌

While pep talks can be done in different ways, including motivational self-talk and instructional self-talk, the goal is to encourage a positive outcome. 

The Positive Effects of Pep Talks

Researchers have studied how self-talk can affect athletes during a game. During a tennis match, junior tennis players' self-talk and gestures were recorded. The results of this study revealed that players who had negative self-talk tended to lose, while the players that were practicing positive self-talk scored more points.‌

Some of the words and phrases used for positive motivation by the tennis players were:

  • “Let’s go!”
  • “Yes!”
  • “Come on!”

While this study focused on a sporting event, you can apply these practices to any area of your life. Even a few positive words spoken to yourself can influence an outcome for the better. Some more pep talks that have been proven to work are:

  • “You can win.” 
  • “Just concentrate on each point.” 
  • “Come on, I can do it.”
  • “You know you can do this.”
  • “I won’t miss.” ‌

You can replace any sport-specific terms with words and ideas that are relevant to you and your goals. 

The Effects of Negative Self-Talk

While confident self-talk is shown to produce positive results, negative self-talk can have an equally potent effect. Statements such as those listed below have caused players not only to lose matches, but to act out in verbally and physically aggressive ways:

  • “You are lazy!”
  • “You are slow!”
  • “Oh my God!”
  • “I can’t!”‌

It may be useful to note that people who use positive self-talk to achieve their goals don’t expect this to remove all negative thoughts that might pop up. Negative thoughts are completely normal, and you shouldn't beat yourself up for having them. Instead, focus on how you can use pep talks to counteract these negative thoughts and feelings when they arise. Choose positive pep talks that focus on solutions to any mental barriers. Replace your "I can't" with "I am capable".

If you are feeling negative or overwhelmed about a situation, you might try reminding yourself not to overthink the situation too much, but instead to just get started right away. ‌

Another tried and proven pep-talk strategy is to remind yourself what your end goals are and the benefits you will gain from achieving them. 

Types of Pep Talks

One study categorized the different types of common pep talks. Matching your goals to one of these categories may help you to use your pep talks more efficiently to achieve the outcome you want.

  • General. This type of pep talk is typically used to improve your performance in an area such as a workout or training. General pep talks are not as commonly used for specific skills. 
  • Skill-specific. Skill-specific pep talks are commonly targeted towards a clear, definable goal. You might use language more tailored to the task at hand.
  • Results. These pep talks motivate by reminding you of the results that you will achieve once you’ve completed the task. 
  • Arousal. If you are looking to psych yourself up, relax, or prevent boredom, this is your go-to category. 
  • Goals. Setting or reminding yourself of your goals when starting out is a great way to stay on track. 
  • Task instructions. To use this kind of pep talk, give yourself detailed instructions on what you have to do to reach your goal. 
  • Why. Motivate yourself to continue by reminding yourself why you're doing this task in the first place. This might include not only the direct result of the task, but your deeper, more personal "why." For example, you might be working out so you can get stronger, but you may also be doing it so you can be healthier, live longer, or have more fun hiking with your family or friends next summer.
  • Mastery. Mastery pep talks are used to keep focused through a particularly difficult moment. They include themes of focus, self-confidence, and coping through challenges. ‌

While there are many different ways to motivate yourself with a pep talk, the most effective pep talks tend to be ones that have calming, strategic, and motivational intentions to help you get the job done when you need a boost. 

Show Sources

SOURCES:

JOURNAL OF SPORT & EXERCISE PSYCHOLOGY: “The Relationship Between Observable Self-Talk and Competitive Junior Tennis Players’ Match Performances” 

Psychology of Sport and Exercise: “A description of self-talk in exercise”

Psychology of Sport and Exercise 6: “Just do it… before you talk yourself out of it”: the self-talk of adults thinking about physical activity”

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