A Simple Technique to Enhance Performance
Everyone has the drive to improve their performance. At least in some aspect of their lives.
Some of us want to improve our physical prowess, like getting a personal best in a marathon or sports competition. Others want to improve their performance in their professional lives. Producing more sales, getting clients, or improving their organizations bottom line.
The point is, improvement is an integral part of succeeding in our life. It’s how we learn and grow.
There are many paths to improvement, and motivation plays a big role in pushing you to do better. So who wouldn’t want to know which motivational techniques produce the motivation to succeed?
A group of psychologists wanted to know the answer to that question as well. So they went about testing several techniques to see which produced the biggest gains.
They found that one of the simplest, but effective techniques to enhancing performance can be telling yourself, “I think I can do better.”
Getting Pumped Up
The researchers looked at some of the more well known motivational techniques in scientific literature.
Unlike other research, though, they wanted to study more than just the techniques individually. They wanted to see which ones would improve performance, and compare them by testing them on over 44,000 different people playing a competitive game.
The three techniques they selected were:
1.Imagery – using mental images to rehearse or practice particular situations
2.Self-talk – described as a persons inner dialogue to themselves.
3.If-then planning – which is a planned response to a specific cue in pursuit of a selected goal. “If ‘x’ happens, then I will do ‘y’”. It is also commonly referred to as an implementation intention.
These particular psychological tricks were selected because they have shown to be effective methods of enhancing performance and motivation.
Finally, the researchers went one step further. They tested these 3 different methods in four different ways.
What does that mean, exactly? Just that they had them apply the techniques to slightly different aspects of a competitive task. The areas and examples are below:
1.Focusing on the process of the goal. For example, “I can try to react quicker to the ball.”
2.Focusing on the outcome of the goal. – “I will place 1st in my heat.”
3.Focusing on instruction. “I will keep my eye on the ball.”
4.Focusing on the arousal-control. Where participants attempt to keep calm or to pump themselves up through things like mindfulness, muscle relaxation, or listening to music.
When the participants competed in the games, and the dust settled, which methods came out on top?
Improvement was actually seen across all groups, which is normal considering that people get better at activities as they gain experience.
But the greatest improvements came from self-talk, followed by imagery. The best methods, with their specific focus were:
1.Self-talk outcome. Telling yourself, “I can beat my best score.”
2.Self-talk process. Telling yourself, “I can react quicker this time.”
3.Imagery-outcome. Imagining yourself playing the game and beating your best score.
4.Imagery-process. Imagining yourself playing and reacting quicker than last time.
If-then planning came in third, as the least effective of the methods.
The author’s write:
“…imagery and self-talk focused on motivational outcome and process were associated with faster performance, higher arousal, and greater effort, than participants in the control group.
Self-talk process and outcome were associated with significantly more intense pleasant emotions.”
It appears that self-talk also has the added benefit of boosting positive emotions during activities which may be competitive.
How It Boosts Performance
What may be driving the surge in performance when using the self-talk method?
The authors write that it may be a bit of a placebo effect. Meaning that it may actually be boosting their competitive performance because they believe it to be an effective method.
They also said one of the reasons why self-talk may be more effective is because it was easier to use and implement than imagery, which some participants were unfamiliar with.
But if this is true, this would be another real example of the power of belief.
Motivation in the Real World
So how can you apply this to your own life?
When trying to draw conclusions, it’s good to remember the context of the study. It’s not just the results, but how the study was performed.
These results showed which methods works best in short term, immediate goals and competition. They are probably best used in immediate situations like during competition or practice, preparing for a test, or trying to improve upon a specific skill. In short, better motivation can drive better performance.
For long term performance gains, however, there are a lot of variables to consider. This techniques may not be best for things like behavior change such as weight loss, habits, or healthy eating.
In fact, the method which performed the worst of the 3 in this study – if-then planning – has actually shown to be one of the most reliable and effective methods for obtaining long term goals. If you are working on habits or behavior change, if-then planning is probably your best bet.