The Power of Positive Thinking
Perseverance is a great quality. It's wonderful to be able to motivate yourself to keep putting an effort into something even if it's not going smoothly. A big part of that ability is maintaining a positive outlook and can-do attitude. And now, new research suggests that simply telling yourself that you can do better may actually translate to doing better in reality.
The study, which was conducted at the University of Wolverhampton in Walsall, United Kingdom in association with BBC Lab UK, a source of valid online experiments, found that thinking you can enhance your performance appears to lead to improvements in the way you do a particular task.1 The subjects were more than 44,000 men and women ranging in age from 16 to 91. They were randomly divided into 12 different experimental groups and one control group. The focus of the investigation was assessing which mental abilities have the most impact on how individuals can improve their scores in an online game.
Several methods of self-motivation were analyzed to determine their effect on a particular task. The scientists explored the use of three categories of psychological strategies: self-talk, imagery, and if-then planning. The experiment involved the participants applying these specific skills to a portion of a competitive task in the areas of process, outcome, arousal-control, or instruction.
The use of self-talk was shown to produce a greater level of improvement in every aspect of the given task compared to the control group. Self-talk involves internalizing messages to yourself such as "I can do better next time." Two areas of self-talk were especially beneficial. These were self-talk involving an outcome, which refers to telling yourself that you can do better than your best score, and self-talk involving the process, such as telling yourself, "I know I can react more quickly in the next round."
Imagery, which involves picturing yourself being more successful at your task, was another psychological method that was discovered to bring about task-oriented improvements. Benefits were found in both imagery involving an outcome, such as imagining yourself playing again and besting your highest score, and imagery involving the process, which would be imagining yourself playing the game and having a better reaction time than previous attempts.
In addition, the researchers displayed a brief motivational video for the volunteers that also appeared to enhance their performance. This video featured Olympian Michael Johnson stressing the importance of not only physical preparation but mental training prior to taking on a challenge. The subjects who viewed the video before playing a game performed better than in their previous sessions.
The study is strengthened by its large and diverse sample size. And while achieving greater levels of success in an online game might not seem particularly important or relevant to you, the results should readily translate to other tasks to which you might apply yourself. For instance, if you have a big project due at work, using techniques such as self-talk and positive imagery could very well give you the confidence boost needed to do a superb job and impress your supervisors. It's a matter of believing in yourself.
And the same could apply to making changes to your lifestyle to adopt healthier habits. These methods may be very helpful in starting a fitness routine or pushing yourself a little further if your workout begins to plateau. Using self-talk might provide the motivation needed to keep yourself going and perhaps add a segment of interval training or exercise a little longer to help you achieve a personal goal.
The power of positive thinking undoubtedly has a great influence on our bodies. A 2015 study at the University of California, Berkeley showed the effects of our exposure to nature, art, and spirituality elicits positive emotions that may offer some protection from disease.2 And Jon Barron has been talking for many years about mind/body connection and how our thoughts are vital to our well-being. To learn more, check out the chapter titled "The Thought that Kills" in his book Lessons from the Miracle Doctors.
- 1. Lane, Andrew M.; et al. "Brief Online Training Enhances Competitive Performance: Findings of the BBC Lab UK Psychological Skills Intervention Study." Frontiers in Psychology. 30 March 2016. Accessed 3 July 2016. http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00413/full
- 2. Stellar, Jennifer E.; et al. "Positive affect and markers of inflammation: Discrete positive emotions predict lower levels of inflammatory cytokines." Emotion. April 2015. Accessed 4 July 2016. http://psycnet.apa.org/?&fa=main.doiLanding&doi=10.1037/emo0000033