Self-talk makes it easier to get off the couch and off to the gym. The perks of positive self-talk aren’t just in your head, says Gabriele Oettingen, Ph.D., a New York University psychologist who’s spent 20 years studying self-talk science, and author of Rethinking Positive Thinking. When done correctly, it can impact the sympathetic nervous system to temporarily lift blood pressure, a sign of increased energy and motivation. But “just thinking positively to achieve goals is much less effective than we’d expect,” Oettingen notes. What is helpful: tempering a rah-rahattitude – “You can’t do this!”- with mental matras that are based in reality. The idea is to identify the pitfalls standing between you and goal, then create upbeat scripts to cue you through how you’ll overcome them,” says Oettingen.
This research-backed technique helps you identify unattainable dreams early on – and gives you the internal encouragement you need to tackle surmountable obstacles before they trip you up, fast-tracking you to success. Oettingen calls the four-step process
Make a Wish
First, think of a desire you would like to fulfill. It can be big or something smaller, such as, “I want to try out that intense new Tabata class at my gym. To strengthen your commitment to the goal, mentally repeat it to yourself. Or use Oettingen’s WOOP app (free; woopmy life.org) to record it.
Imagine the Outcome
Next, consider how you’ll benefit from achieving the goal. Think details, both short-term and long-term. So you might tell yourself, “After completing the class, I’ll feel accomplished, energised, happier-and I’ll even be on the road to dropping some pounds.”
Now that your wish is solidified; articulate the most critical roadblocks standing in the way of your success. For example: “I’m probably going to feel really exhausted partway through the class and be tempted to give up.” Admitting this to yourself up front means you won’t feel as discouraged if and when you do hit the hurdle later on.
Hatch a Plan
Finally, map your attack using “If (obstacle), then I will (plan)” sentences. For instance, tell yourself, “If I feel so pooped that I want to quit, then I will take a 30-second water break and remind myself the class is only 45 minutes long.” Visualise yourself carrying out this plan. That way when the roadblock does arise, you’ll automatically react with the scripted solution without even thinking.