Whilst putting together an article on ways to use internal dialogue, I thought I’d look at the evidence that supports the processes I was about to share.

I was swamped. No way could I do a full, exhaustive literature review! So I cherry picked a bit and thought I’d share my findings here today.

The reference to internal dialogue or self-talk here within this blog entry then, is any statement that the runner thinks, whether it is just said internally or if it is said aloud.

As runners, we benefit from being aware of and influencing our self-talk in ways that help us to develop and utilise our focus, the way we perceive and judge our abilities and performances, as well as anything that could impair or obstruct a good running performance in a race, event or during preparation and training.

You’ll be aware already from us looking at ways to update limiting beliefs in recent weeks here, that such beliefs and thinking errors are often apparent within our internal dialogue. Therefore, our internal dialogue is a great way for us to access our beliefs, our cognitions and the way we think. Our internal dialogue can become a tool for taking control of our thoughts, beliefs and perceptions (Zinsser et al., 2001).

There have been a number of studies that have explored how internal dialogue is used within the field of sporting performance. Highlen and Bennett (1983) found that successful divers tended to use more progressive self-instruction within their internal dialogue when competing than the divers who failed to qualify for competition. In a study conducted on successful Olympic athletes, Orlick and Partington (1988) found that the Olympians often used positive self-statements as part of a structured and developed training schedule leading up to competitions. In particular, when Olympic wrestlers were studied by Gould and colleagues (1992) it was found that use of the internal dialogue helped create positive expectation and focused at­tention effectively when required.

A number of studies have also shown that negative use of internal dialogue can potential have a detrimental effect on sporting performance.  For example, Van Raalte, Brewer, Rivera, & Petitpas (1994) conducted a study with junior tennis players and discovered that negative use of internal dialogue was associated with losing matches.

Some studies may initially seem slightly less relevant to runners, but I think are useful to build the case for the considered use of internal dialogue, and hopefully motivate you to want to learn the best ways to use it. There are for example, studies that have suggested positive self-statements used by golfers or bowlers may be more effective in enhancing performance than negative ones (Johnston-O’Connor & Kirschenbaum, 1986; Kirschenbaum, Ordman, Tomarken, & Holtz-bauer, 1982; Kirschenbaum, Owens, & O’Connor, 1998).

Perhaps more relevant to runners then, are studies exploring simple closed-skill tasks. Closed tasks are fairly standardised skills in a relatively constant environment. That could well sum up some runners skill of running.  Research has indicated that with such activity, positive use of internal dialogue was related to enhanced performance (Dagrou, Gauvin, & Halliwell, 1992; Schill, Monroe, Evans, & Ramanaiah, 1978; Van Raalte et al., 1995).

Also encouraging for those requiring motivation to train and stick to schedules are studies by Buffone, Sachs, & Dowd (1984) and Gauvin (1990) showing how effective use of internal dialogue can help individuals maintain exercise behaviour.

Importantly for us here then, is the overview indicated by these studies and others that support the idea that positive use of internal dialogue can be associated with enhanced perfor­mance. Also, that negative internal dialogue has the potential to impair sporting performance.

In my next blog entry here I want to show you a wide array of ways that runners can use their internal dialogue effectively to enhance running performance, though there are a good number of methods for effectively using internal dialogue here on the blog already if you explore well.


Buffone, G. W., Sachs, M. L., & Dowd, E. T. (1984) Cognitive behavioral strategies for promoting adherence to exercise. Running as therapy: An integrated approach (pp. 198-214)

Dagrou, E., Gauvin, L., & Halliwell, W. (1991) The mental preparation of athletes: current practices and research perspectives. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 22, 15-34.

Dagrou, E., Gauvin, L., & Halliwell, W. (1992). Effects of positive, negative, and neutral language on motor performance. Canadian Journal of Sport Sciences, 17, 145-147.

Gauvin, L. (1990). An experiential perspective on the motivational features of exercise and lifestyle. Canadian Journal of Sports Sciences, 15, 51-58.

Highlen, P. S., & Bennett, B. B. (1983). Elite divers and wrestlers: A comparison between open- and closed-skill athletes. Journal of Sport Psychology, 5, 390-409.

Kirschenbaum, D. S., O’Connor, E. A., & Owens, D. (1999). Positive illusions in golf: Empirical and conceptual analyses. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 11, 1-27.

Kirschenbaum, D. S., Ordman, A. M., Tomarken, A. J., & Holtzbauer, R. (1982). Effects of differential self-monitoring and level of mastery on sports performance: Brain power bowling. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 6, 335-342.

Kirschenbaum, D. S., Owens, D., & O’Connor, E. A. (1998). Smart golf: Preliminary evaluation of a simple, yet comprehensive, approach to improving and scoring the mental game. The Sport Psychologist, 12, 271-282.

Orlick, T., & Partington, J. (1988). Mental links to excellence. The Sport Psychologist, 2, 105-130.

Schill, T., Monroe, S., Evans, R., & Ramanaiah, N. (1978). The effects of self-verbalizations on performance: A test of the rational-emotive position. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, and Practice, 15, 2-7.

Van Raalte, J. L., Brewer, B. W., Rivera, P. M., & Petitpas, A. J. (1994). The relationship between observable self-talk and competitive junior tennis players’ match performance. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 16, 400-415.

Zinsser, N., Bunker, L. K., & Williams, J. M. (2001). Cognitive techniques for improving performance and building confidence. In J. M. Williams (ed.), Applied sport psychology: Personal growth to peak performance (pp. 284-311).

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