News, Culture & Society

You CAN do it! Encouraging yourself with a pep talk in second person leads to more athletic success

You CAN do it! Encouraging yourself with a pep talk in the second person leads to greater athletic success, study shows

  • A new study says ‘self-talk’ in the second-person are more effective than others 
  • Saying ‘I can do it’ is less effective than if an athlete says ‘you can do it’
  • In 22 cyclist, those that chose the second-person completed trials faster
  • The research could help coaches and athletes to improve athletic performance 

The old adage, ‘it’s all a matter of perspective,’ could be especially useful for athletes looking to gain an advantage in endurance sports, according to new research.

In a new study, researchers from Bangor University say that motivational mantras uttered in the second-person perspective — using ‘you’ instead of ‘I’ — contribute to better performance among some athletes. 

In the study, which assessed the performance of 22 cyclists, researchers found that athletes who uttered phrases like ‘you can do it’ as opposed to ‘I can do it’ consistently completed the trial quicker and with more rigor.

Cyclists who use ‘you’ affirmations instead of ‘I’ performed better in trials compared to their counterparts according to new research from Bangor University. Stock image


Researchers say talking to yourself during endurance-based sports may help improve performance. 

Specifically, researchers found that talking to oneself in the second-person perspective — using ‘you’ instead of ‘I’ — was most effective.

Of the 22 cyclist participating in the study, those who gave self-affirmations in the form of ‘you’-based statements completed trials faster.

The research could help illuminate sports science and psychology and improve athletic performance. 

Experts say this is the first study to show how the way ‘self-talk’ may affect athletic performance.

For the study published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, researchers said they chose cycling — an endurance-based sport — because little is known about the psychology of sports geared toward physical longevity. 

‘Sports psychologists have long known that self-talk can be useful for aiding enhanced performance,’ said James Hardy one of the paper’s authors.

‘However, nothing was known about the way that a subtle grammatical difference in self-talk, using first (‘I can do this’) or second (‘You can do this’) person pronouns, can effect performance; that is, until our recent research.’

Despite the fact that the athletes who used a second-person perspective to motivate themselves performed better and generated more force than their counterparts in the first-person, the subjects report not feeling like they exerted themselves more.

‘Our findings from 16 active males indicate that second person self-talk generated significantly greater power output and faster time-trial performance than first person self-talk,’ said Hardy in a statement.

‘Interestingly, the participants did not report noticing any difference in ratings of perceived exertion. 

‘So they were able to do more work but didn’t notice any difference in workload.’

Researchers say the research can help athletes and coaches achieve peak performance. Stock image

Researchers say the research can help athletes and coaches achieve peak performance. Stock image

There’s currently no clear explanation for why the difference between perspectives might affect athletes performance, but researchers say it could have to do with the pronoun ‘you’ helping to distance athletes from their own physical exertion, The Telegraph reports.

Alternatively, the use of ‘you’ may may mimic the motivational speech of a coach or another figure of authority.

‘It is possible that using a non-first person pronoun perspective helps performance because it allows the runner to adapt a thinking process that is more helpful for her/himself,’ Hardy told The Telegraph.

Researchers say the study will help to illuminate best practices for coaches and athletes looking to help push the boundaries in endurance sports.