Talk To The Man In The Mirror: How To Find Motivation In The Words You Choose

At a time when many New Year's resolutions are still alive and kicking, you might find yourself indulging in constant self-motivation. However, if your idea of self-motivating translates to you talking yourself into taking action, you might be on the wrong track.

"Contrary to self-help lore, there's little evidence that positive self-talk works like magic," Oliver Burkeman wrote for the Guardian. "Telling yourself you're beautiful, a confident public speaker or a future billionaire won't make you any of those things; if anything, it's liable to have the reverse effect."

The notion of a positive mind has long been regarded as the key to success. Believe it and you'll receive it, so goes the cliché. Perpetuating this belief often demands that you constantly speak to yourself, making declarations about what you will and won't do today, tomorrow and forevermore, amen. But motivating yourself along the road to success requires more than straying away from negativity. The key is not what you say to yourself; it's the way you speak to yourself, as well.

"It's been shown that if you want to accomplish a challenging task, you're better off phrasing it as a question ("Will I talk to my boss about that promotion?") than simply declaring it ("I will talk to my boss about that promotion!"). The declaration sounds better, but it's the question that generates more "intrinsic motivation," calling to mind your deeply held reasons for wanting to act."

Trying to motivate yourself in the form of a question is much more effective, Burkeman says, because it forces you to think actively about the reasons and benefits of actually succeeding. Instead of trying to say words that'll force you into action, asking questions of yourself reminds you of all the motives you have for taking those actions.

As Burkeman indicates, much of the power that words have on the mind rest in the nuances; much of it lies in word choice. In further explaining his point, he provides and examples of a study that tested just how much of an effect a change in words has on people's commitment to their resolutions.

"Students seeking to eat more healthily were instructed to use either 'I can't' or 'I don't' each time they confronted a temptation," he said. "Upon leaving, they were offered a token of appreciation for taking part: a chocolate bar or a granola bar. Of those instructed to resist temptation using 'I can't,' 39 percent went for the healthier choice; of those using 'I don't,' the figure was 64 percent."

The examples can go on and on, but the point will remain the same: If you want to motivate yourself properly, the key is in the words. Choose wisely.