A Mental Strategy That Will Improve Your Performance on Any Task

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 my performance.

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.

Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Slotralogy, Direct Your Mind, and Self-Reliance, Translated. Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

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