What’s the most powerful self-talk?   Three researchers asked themselves that question in a series of experiments they conducted in 2010.  In one, they gave participates ten anagrams to solve (for example, rearranging the letters in “happiness” to “aspen ship”).  They separated the participants into two groups, each of which was treated identically except for what their instructors said right before the assignment.  The researchers instructed the first group to ask themselves whether they would solve the puzzles, the second group to tell themselves that they would solve the puzzles.  The group that asked themselves if they could solve the puzzles solved nearly 50-percent more puzzles than the self-affirming group.

Why is interrogative self-talk important?  Those who approach tasks with Bob-the-Builder-style questioning self-talk – Can we fix it? – outperform those who employ the more conventional pump-up positive-self-talk.  The reasons are twofold.  First, the interrogative, by its very form, elicits answers – and within those answer are strategies for actually carrying out the task.  Imagine, that you’re readying yourself for an important pitch.  You could tell yourself, “I’m the best, this is going to be easy,” and it may provide a short-term emotional boost.  Instead, if you ask, “Can I make a great pitch?” the research has found that you provide yourself with something deeper and longer lasting.  You may respond with, “Yes, I can make a great pitch.  I made a similar pitch to X Company and they became regular clients.  If I use similar materials but make a few changes to fit their needs, I will be 100-percent ready for this meeting.”  You may also give yourself advice like, “I spoke too quickly last time, I’ll make sure to slow my pace.” Affirmation of only using positive self-talk may you feel better about the impending pitch, but the self-interrogation gets you ready by prompting you to summon the resource and strategies to accomplish goals.

The second reason is similar.  Researchers claim interrogative self-talk, “may inspire thoughts about autonomous or intrinsically motivated reasons to pursue a goal.”  Research has shown that people are more likely to act and perform well when the motivations come from intrinsic choices.  Questioning self-talk elicits the reasons for doing something and reminds people that many of those reasons come from within.

How should I use interrogative self-talk?  Before your pitch or doing any cold-calling ask yourself if you can win the client.  You may be surprised how better prepared you’ll be before entering that boardroom or walking into a cold-call.  Interrogating self-talk can prepare you for any questions or situations that may arise during your pitch.  Be thoughtful and write down any notes and clarifications you may have before continuing on your pitch.

Read case-studies about interrogative self-talk in To Sell is Human: Buoyancy Chapter.

The Study: Motivating goal-directed behavior through introspective self-talk.