• Psychology of Movement
    Inner dialogue - friend or foe
  • Inner dialogue - friend or foe
  • When we are trying to motivate ourselves to exercise there is often a conversation that goes on about it in our heads. We might think about how we’re planning to do it, or offer ourselves some reassurance or words of encouragement. This is what psychologists call an “inner dialogue.”

    But sometimes the inner dialogue can be far from encouraging. We have noticed through our work that people’s inner dialogue is often more critical than helpful: “I am so lazy”, “I am rubbish at this” or “*insert insult*”! And what makes these statements unhelpful, or even hostile, is not always the words in isolation but the tone and feelings behind the words.


    When we perceive there to be a potential threat or block to our goals, it’s natural to direct anger or frustration toward the “source” of the threat. In many cases, we perceive that source to be ourselves, maybe because we judge ourselves as lacking discipline or motivation, or simply because we feel unable to overcome a barrier that stands in our way. So it often feels like we have to give ourselves a kick up the backside to get ourselves to achieve what we are trying to achieve.

    But do we?

    When it comes to these self-critical inner dialogues - and we are talking about self-criticism that goes beyond constructive feedback and honest self-evaluation - they often have the opposite effect to what we desire. A simple way to know if your inner dialogue is helpful or not is to ask: “is this making me feel more confident and motivated?” More often than not, the answer is a resounding “no”!

    To consider another scenario, if your boss was insulting and criticising you while you were trying to do a difficult task at work, it’s unlikely that you would feel particularly motivated or confident in doing that task. The same applies to how you talk to yourself. Or consider what you would say to help motivate a friend who was facing a challenge. Most people would speak differently in this case, because they know that being overly critical would not help someone else to feel motivated.

    So it’s important to become aware of your inner dialogue, and to assess whether it is helpful or unhelpful to you as you try to navigate your exercise activities. We like to think of the idea of pragmatism - regardless of how you may feel about yourself, to what extent is your inner dialogue helping you get or stay active and feel good about doing it? Think inner coach, not inner critic!

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