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How to Set Goals: Self-Talk

Instructional self-talk is the internal commentary that happens while we are trying to complete a challenging activity or task. For example, while completing a difficult report at work your instructional self-talk might sound like, “Ok open up Powerpoint, find a title image, make a chart on the recent statistics…” This kind of self-talk actually helps us in ways we are just beginning to understand.

Why Instructional Self-Talk is Important:

1) Battles Distractions

In today’s digital world filled with blackberries, laptops and iPads, it is difficult to focus on a task—especially a challenging one. Instructional self-talk actually lets us focus on the most important basics of the task at hand and help our mind block out anything happening around us. So, when you are working on a report and you only have a few hours to do it. Instructional self-talk will help you get the report done faster by getting you to block out your pinging inbox and beeping phone.

2) Makes Us More Logical

Saying tasks out loud or at least breaking down tasks mentally helps us make calculated decisions on what to do next. Instructional self-talk will help you make better decisions. For example, if you are trying to decide how to split up a project at work. Engaging in instructional self-talk will help you make better decisions on who to choose because it insures you are thinking through every logical step in the project.

3) Beats Out Emotions

In work especially it is important to keep emotions out of important business decisions. The researchers found that instructional self-talk does exactly that. It helps you control your emotions as you move through each task. For example, if you are thinking about hiring someone or bringing them onto your team, but are swayed by your personal friendship, instructional self-talk can help you make a clear, unbiased decision.

How Can You Incorporate Instructional Self-Talk?

Now that you know the benefits of self-talk there are a few ways you can incorporate it into your day-to-day work life.

  • Plan ahead for the tasks you know you find the most challenging. Book into your calendar to try instructional self-talk before it is due.
  • Researchers found that self-talk is the most successful when thinkers first ruminate on their end-goal, make a plan and then walk through it. So, try planning out what you want to do before starting.
  • After using instructional self-talk reflect on how effective it was for you. Do you do better speaking out loud or does that embarrass you? Did you make a plan ahead of time or just dive in. Figure out how you want to incorporate self-talk into your routine by reflecting on what worked and did not work for you.

Instructional self-talk takes a little getting used to, but is worth the results!


Splitting of the Mind: When the You I Talk to is Me and Needs Commands. Social Psychological and Personality Science September 1, 2012 3:549-555.

About Vanessa Van Edwards

Vanessa Van Edwards is a published author and behavioral investigator. She is a Huffington Post columnist and her courses and research has been featured on CNN, Forbes, Business Week and the Wall Street Journal. As a published Penguin author, Vanessa regularly speaks and appears in the media to talk about her research. She is a sought after consultant and speaker.

  • Phil

    This reminds me of Piaget’s Concrete Operational period of development. I think we often use that method when we’re dealing with unfamiliar material.

    • Vanessa Van Edwards

      Thanks Phil. I hadnt heard of it, but I will check it out!

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