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  • Writer's pictureAdam Behar

Just Say It: How to Gain Competitive Advantage at Work and in Life

In a career that lasted a quarter of a century, Rickey Henderson hit more lead-off home runs, scored more runs, and stole more bases than anyone in the game’s history.

And yet he is just as famous for his quirks, like talking to himself and referring to himself in third-person.

Rickey was Right

Now, several years after his retirement, research shows that talking to yourself, especially out loud, brings many benefits including increased confidence and better decision-making.

There is instructional self-talk, like talking through the steps as you learn a new task, and motivational self-talk, ala Stuart Smalley.

In one game, as he headed back to the dugout after striking out, Henderson was overheard saying, "Don't worry, Rickey -- you're still the best."

This type of talk didn’t sit well with some players and fans. But he understood the power of motivational self-talk.

Henderson also engaged in instructional self-talk, or self-explaining. A reporter once asked why he talks to himself when he’s up at bat, and he responded, “Do I talk to myself? No, I just remind myself of what I’m trying to do.”

5 Self-Talk Scenarios

1. You need to psych yourself up.

Motivational self-talk is ideal when the stakes are high and you need to boost your performance.

You have to give a new-business presentation, deliver a speech or, in Rickey Henderson’s case, come to the plate with the game on the line.  

2. You need to learn something.

Whether you’re working on your MBA or learning a new technology, explaining the material to yourself improves memory and cognition.

Research indicates that self-explainers learn almost three times more than their peers who keep mum. What if talking to yourself out loud is not a sign of mental illness, but mental prowess?

3. You need to solve a problem.

Whatever your dilemma -- whether you’re leading a new-product brainstorm or trying to diagnose customer churn -- stating your problem out loud and talking through it will help you find a solution. 

4. You need to make a big decision.

Sound decision-making requires emotional distance. Self-talk helps you see things more clearly and objectively, as an outsider might.

Articulating what you’re thinking is a great way to get a quick reality-check. Maybe a co-worker drops the ball, and you think to yourself, I can’t count on Jim.

But when you say it out loud, with more emotional distance, you are able to counter that thought with reason: Of course I can count on Jim. Everyone makes a mistake!

5. You need to plan for different scenarios.

Chatting to yourself about different possibilities that could unfold during a job interview, or about how you’ll handle the big talk with your boss, helps reduce anxiety and prepares you for the real experience.

Rickey was Right (Again!)

To get the most mileage out of your self-talk, experts suggest talking about yourself in the third-person (Preferably, when your co-workers aren’t eavesdropping.)

“When people use their own name, that provides them with the psychological space and helps them think more constructively,” says psychologist Ethan Kross.

Here again, Henderson gave us plenty of material, so much in fact that it led to a blog-post titled, “The Top 10 Times Rickey Henderson Referred to Himself in the Third-Person.’

Ahead of his Time

Maybe Henderson was arrogant, as his critics charged. Or maybe, before it became trendy, he realized that negative self-talk could destroy his potential, while positive self-talk could help unlock it.

In 2003, Henderson retired.

His understanding of the mental side of the game, combined with supernatural speed, strength, and endurance, enabled him to perform at an extraordinarily high level for a quarter of a century and catapulted him all the way to the Hall of Fame.

Not a bad career for a guy who liked to run his mouth almost as much as he liked to run the bases.

By the way, Rickey Henderson is not the only famous person who talked to himself out loud. Another self-talker that comes to mind is someone by the name of Albert Einstein. 

Just saying.

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