Using psychology to get an ‘edge’

I have just listened to an interesting podcast from the British Psychological Society. Here is the link to Use Psychology to compete like an Olympian

There were three main ideas presented.

  1. Attitude makes a physical difference.

Our bodies respond very differently to the same stimulus depending on whether we genuinely perceive it as a threat (negative) or a challenge (positive). In the case of a challenge, the heart rate increases and more blood gets pumped to the heart, preparing the body for better performance. In the case of a perceived threat, the heart rate also increases but the blood vessels constrict and little or no extra blood gets pumped (I have no idea of the biology, this is according to the study cited in the podcast – references below).

To anyone embracing a cognitive approach, this is music to our ears. Aiding ourselves and others to embrace an attitude of self efficacy is what we do!

2. Self talk can be used to aid performance 

In a (fairly limited in my view) study, performance improved on cognitive tasks when positive self talk was used. Interestingly, it made a difference whether the person used ‘I’ or ‘You’ with better results coming from using ‘You’. Disappointingly the study did not study increased physical performance but then as so much stress is derived from maladaptive responses to stressors which slow us down mentally, this is still relevant.

The use of self talk is an important part of many cognitive approaches and something that hypnotherapists amongst others, have specific skills in working with. I found the study interesting partly because I have sometimes had a slight feeling that just changing self talk was a bit of a ‘fake it until you make it’ approach, but the study seems to show that this deliberate use of self talk has a measurable difference.

3. Use of imagery

Use of visual imagery in imagination sped up the reaction time of martial artists in the study referred to in the podcast. The imagery was practised prior to training session and prior to matches rather than during the training session/match.

Again, this is music to the cognitive hypnotherapists ears. Performance can be enhanced by mental training undertaken appropriately and in my view the point clearly made that the visual imagery was practised before but not during is a key principle as during actual performance such deliberate use of imagination may interfere with being in the flow, in the moment (this is just my opinion).


It was an interesting podcast although a bit of a coffee table offering with studies cherry picked to support the main idea. I have not had time to look at the studies carefully so am very open to comments on those from anyone who does have time and interest to do so.


The podcast

Cardiovascular indices of challenge and threat states predict competitive performance

Self-motivation: How “You can do it!” beats “I can do it!”

Effect of self-talk and imagery on the response time of trained martial artists.


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