Examining Peak Performance: So, What Should My Self-Talk Be?

Many mental conditioning coaches and sports psychologists have begun to emphasize positive self-talk. It is considered an important tool in the attainment of peak performance and a key component in the mindset necessary for peak performance. However, most experts are pretty simplistic in their use of positive self-talk: just say positive things to yourself and don’t say negative things. Unfortunately, most coaches have few specifics about exactly what to say to yourself and when.

In a Peak Performance blog post on June 12, 2015, I discussed the peak performance mindset. In that post, I mentioned 5 modes:

1. Experimental Mode (previously called practice mode)
2. Deliberate Rehearsal Mode
2. Preparation Mode
3. Performance Mode
4. Evaluation Mode

I also alluded to the importance of self-talk in each of the modes. I now want to introduce the idea that each mode requires a different set of specific self-talk statements. The statements themselves are related what needs to be accomplished in each mode.

In experimental mode, the focus in on experimentation and trying new skills. Here, you are gathering data on what works best and what is most effective. What else can you do? This mode is typically used in individual, solitary, informal workouts or warm-up drills. This is the mode where it is most important to challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone. This mode is for creativity, experimentation, but is not the point at which you commit to making a change in technique or mechanics. You are being open to the change process, but have not committed to make a specific change. You are trying new things. For some athletes, this is the mode that is most fun. By definition, in this mode your self-talk requires the use of such internal self-statements as:

– OK, I am in experimental mode. I am experimenting. I am being creative.
-Time to throw things at the wall and see what sticks.
– Let’s see what happens when I try to do this.
– Let me see if I can do this.
– How about if I try this?
– What if I adjust this skill just a little?
– I am going to alter this for now and see how it feels.
– I don’t care how this looks.
– I am just trying this on for size.
– Mistakes and failures are to be expected right now.
– I enjoy the challenge of learning.
– It is important for me to get out of my comfort zone.
– That’s basically it for self-talk in experimental mode.

In deliberate rehearsal mode, the focus is learning. It is about the application of successful experimentation. In this mode you are trying to apply new skills and incorporate what you have learned into your skill set. In this mode, as a result of experiments, you have committed yourself to making a specific change or changes in your skill or routine activity. You want to change or improve your technique or mechanics and get comfortable with it. Most importantly, you also want to commit the new or changed skill to muscle memory. The goal is mastery. In rehearsal mode, your self-talk should sound like this:

– It’s time to rehearse. It’s time to sharpen my sword.
– I like this new technique.
– This new technique will improve my overall game.
– I am committed to mastering this new skill.
– As I practice, this new skill will get comfortable over time.
– I will practice this new skill until I master it.
– I enjoy implementing a new technique into my arsenal.
– I am getting comfortable right now.
– It is time to practice until I can’t get it wrong.
– Apply, lather, rinse, repeat (In other words).

Ok, now, in preparation mode, the focus is increasingly mental. You are instilling and maintaining confidence, getting mentally ready. You have exited experimental and rehearsal modes and you are transitioning mentally. You are reminding yourself of all the hard work you have done. You get yourself ready to perform at the highest level possible. This mode includes time to mental visualize your success through the process of imagery. You should spend considerable time visualizing the successful execution of what you have rehearsed. In preparation mode (otherwise called pre-performance mode), your self-talk should include such statements as:

– It is time to get mentally ready.
– I have physically prepared to the best of my ability.
– I am committed to what I have rehearsed.
– It is time to execute what I have practiced/learned.
– I am ready.
– I can see myself successfully executing my plan.
– I have done this over and over again.
– I know what to do.
– My body is prepared to perform.
– My mind is calm and relaxed.
– It is time to slow my breathing down with full, deep breaths.
– Time to make the donuts.

In performance mode, the focus is on execution. Your opportunity to perform is at hand. In this mode, the mind should be at its most quiet. Muscle memory has taken over and the brain “chatter” is minimal. In performance mode, your self-statements should be very basic.

– When you make a good play, you should be saying;
– Good play. Good job.
– I like that.
– Just like I practiced it.
– Yes, I can do this.
– That is why I worked so hard.
– Practice sure paid off.
– More of the same to follow.
– I can do this again and again.
– If you make a mistake, you should be saying things like:

OK, back to normal.




Move on.



OK, so what about evaluation mode? This is the mode that most people stay in the most and have the most difficulty exiting. Most of our self-talk tends to be evaluative in nature.

You may have noticed that in each of the previous modes, there is little to zero criticism or evaluative statements. That is because there should be little time for evaluation in all the other previously listed modes. Evaluation mode comes after a practice session, rehearsal or after a game, performance or event. You needn’t clutter the other modes with evaluation.

Evaluation mode is the time to say:

How did I impact the game today? How did I influence what happened today?

What did I do well?

What do I need to keep doing?

What do I need to do more often?

What do I need to improve? What can I do to get better?

What do I need to do less often?

What things do I need to stop doing all together?

What did I learn from my performance today?

Did I have fun? What was enjoyable about my game today?

What is the next thing to master?

Evaluation mode is a good thing, but only at the right time. The evaluative process in any other mode is distracting and only provides unfocused chatter that is not useful nor conducive to peak performance.

You may also notice that evaluation mode is not harsh, is not blaming, is not name-calling. It is not a time to beat yourself up. It is time to look objectively at your game and take a productive learning approach. This is how you get better. This is how you learn and this is how to achieve sustainable performance increases. This is how you succeed. This is how you build confidence.

There is more to come in future posts.

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