Any sport that’s physically tough is also mentally tough. Seven miles into your 10-mile long run, part of your brain will try to talk you into quitting. The only way to finish that run is to have a good answer for why and how to keep going. It’s the same when you need to add weight to the bar for your last set of heavy deadlifts, or keep pushing yourself to do the rest of the burpees in your Crossfit WOD. What we say to ourselves matters.
I realized years ago that I’m better at encouraging confidence in other people than at feeling confident myself. I remember one day I was struggling in a roller derby practice—I was a mid-level player trying to hang with an advanced team—and I remembered that I had given the exact pep talk I needed right then to a brand-new skater earlier that week. It went something like: nobody is expecting you to be the best player on the floor right now, we just need you to show that you’re not gonna give up trying to get better.
From then on, I started putting myself in the role of a coach when I talked to myself. “You need to do this,” I’d say, or “It’s okay that X is going wrong, that’s normal. Here’s how you deal with it.” If I had gotten good advice from somebody else, I’d replay in my head the scene where they told it to me.
So next time you’re struggling, talk to yourself the way you would talk to an imaginary athlete you’re coaching. And try some of the phrases from the study: You can do it. You’re determined. You can keep going. You can work through the pain. You will succeed.