HERE'S AN IDEA that might help make you
better at accomplishing your goals. Randall Masciana, M.S., a
researcher from Florida, wanted to find out what mental strategy
improves performance the best. His volunteers played darts and
tried to improve their scores using a wide variety of mental
strategies. His volunteers tried them all everything from
mental imagery to Zen.
The mental strategy that improved their
performance the best was what Masciana calls "positive self-talk."
The dart throwers did best when they talked to themselves in
a confident, reassuring, positive way.
I don't know about you, but when I first
read about this, it didn't strike me as a particularly earthshaking
revelation. It seems like common sense, doesn't it?
But it occurred to me that, as obvious
as this seems, I DIDN'T DO IT. I did not deliberately talk to
myself in a confident, reassuring, positive way in order to improve
So I decided to try it on public speaking,
a task I was learning to do at the time. Here's what I found:
When I thought about an upcoming speech, I'd get a little jolt
of adrenaline, and that jolt seemed to trigger my mind to start
thinking a stream of anxious thoughts: "I should have picked
a better topic. They aren't going to like it. I'm not ready for
this. Maybe I can get out of it somehow." A stream of not
only anxious thoughts, but anxiety-PROVOKING thoughts
they made me feel MORE nervous.
And these thoughts were totally automatic.
I didn't TRY to think these things. They just seemed to happen
all by themselves.
I also found that it is very easy to take
over my own thought-stream. I just interrupt: "Wait a minute.
It IS a good subject to talk about, and at least some people
in the audience will be interested. It's going to be okay. I'll
do fine. I'll prepare well and when I get up there, I'll just
relax and have a good time."
It's easy to take over my thoughts and
think whatever I want. It reminds me of something I learned a
long time ago about breathing. When people get stressed, their
breathing becomes shallow and high in the chest. And this way
of breathing makes you feel MORE stressed (something about getting
less oxygen). But once you become aware of it, it is easy to
take over conscious control of your breathing and breathe any
way you like. Take a slow, deep breath down into your belly and
it makes you feel more relaxed.
Positive self-talk is like that. Yes, there
may be an automatic thinking style your brain uses when you're
not paying attention, but you can take over and do it the way
you like any time you want.
This is good news. Masciana has discovered
that out of all the possible mental strategies, no matter how
complicated or esoteric, the one that works the BEST is very
easy to do IF WE WOULD ONLY DO IT!
So when you want to improve your performance
on some task, EVERY time you think about it, talk to yourself
in a confident, reassuring, positive way. You'll feel better
and you'll do better.