• Dr Lottie Miles

5 Rules for How to talk to Yourself

We all have a ‘little voice’ in our heads that’s constantly chattering away. When you stop and listen, it can be a pretty revealing expression of your thoughts, feelings and emotional state.

When things aren’t going so well, your internal voice is usually at its loudest and most persuasive. Untamed, it can be very unhelpful in these situations and often downright rude - would you talk to your friends that way?!

But self-talk (which is what we call it in the sports science world!) is also a hugely powerful weapon that you can use to light up your mood and performances. Don't make the mistake of underestimating the effect of self-talk because it might sound a bit silly!

There are some important rules to follow with self-talk, which will help you get the most out of this technique and turn negativity into something far more useful. So, here's how you can put your internal dialogue to good use…

Rule #1: Never say “don’t think about…”

The moment you tell yourself (or anyone else for that matter) not to think about something, all you’ve done is remind yourself of that one thing. I call this the 'Pink Elephant theory', because the moment I say "don't think about a pink elephant", that's all you can think of! Instead, you need to replace this negative phrase with a helpful one – a coaching cue for what you should do, or a reminder of how capable or prepared you are for this next moment.

Rule #2: Praise yourself for successes

As humans, we have a tendency to hear the bad stuff in finite detail, but we ignore many of the good things. Make a conscious effort to give yourself a bit of praise when something goes well – “what a good shot”, “that was a nice tackle”, “I nailed that lift”, “I gave it everything, I’m so proud of me!” A small pat on the back goes a long way to making you feel more confident about yourself.

Rule #3: Plan ahead, find your mantra

If you tend to suffer from negative self-talk, get your pen out and plan a few positive phrases you can use in clutch moments. Memorise these phrases and use them as mantras to drown out the negative thoughts when they threaten to occur. When I miss a shot (my cue) I always turn around and say to myself "It's OK, I can't score every time, but I've worked hard to be the best I can be, and that's enough."

Rule #4: Never, ever lie!

You are no fool. Don’t try and tell yourself you can do something that is unrealistic, because you won’t believe it. If you try and convince yourself that you're going to win the London Marathon but you only took up running last week, you're wasting your (mental) breath and perhaps even doing harm. Self-talk is about building your confidence and reminding yourself of what you're truly capable of. If you don’t believe what you’re saying it will have no impact on your confidence - have a read some of my previous posts which have talked about appropriate goal setting...

Rule #5: Practice makes perfect

As with all mental, physical and technical skills, you need to practice. Self-talk is no different. When you’re training, or even just walking about living your life, practice your phases and mantras. They’ll become more and more natural and more effective the more you use them. Eventually you'll find you automatically gravitate to positive self-talk, even when things aren't going to plan.


Don't underestimate the impact of positive self-talk for boosting your confidence and self-esteem. It's something we can all use a bit more of. It’s too easy to get down on yourself and let that little voice in your head remind you of mistakes or unfortunate occurrences over and over again. You can’t stop negativity from happening, but you can recognise it and replace it with positive alternatives. So, plan some mantras, follow my 5 rules and use self-talk to your advantage in all walks of life!


Sport Mentality is a free blog written to help casual exercisers, sports enthusiasts and athletes get the most out of their activities and performances. Please feel free to share these posts with friends, team mates and coaches, and don't forget to subscribe to my weekly newsletter (see the form below) to get alerts about new posts, article summaries and Research Watch links from Sport Mentality each week.

sport mentality

by dr Lottie miles