Why talking to yourself can be good for you
When sprinters are crouched at starting blocks, waiting for their race to begin, they resemble panthers about to pounce. Like wild cats, good athletes know how to use their bodies to run, swim, jump and perform other amazing feats.

There is one big difference between humans and wild cats though. The human athlete has a special trick that, as far as we know, no other animal has. It is called self-talk. Athletes talk to themselves to warm up, to focus and to psych themselves into believing they will win. A few simple words like "I can do it!" and "It is now or never!" can make the difference between winning gold or not.

Self-talk is also used by speakers, actors and other performers. Before a speech, politicians convince themselves that their words will win votes. The daring tight-rope walker uses the right words to stay focused. And, self-talk helps students stay calm even when stumped by hard exam questions. Self-talk is a life skill you can use wherever you are, whenever you need it.

Still a mystery
The whole idea of talking to themselves seems strange to many people. Imagine your teacher saying, "For homework, talk to yourself for half an hour tonight." You might think he is playing a joke on your class.

Instead, adults teach kids all about talking to other people. There are many books and courses on why, when, what and how to communicate with the rest of the world. So much so, you could grow up knowing a whole lot more about people around you than about yourself.

It is, of course, good to speak and listen to others. Humans are social animals and we thrive on staying connected through language. But, there is great value in making time to listen to yourself. When you do, you get to know you better. Along the way, you may discover the powers you have for using words well.

Such ideas are so exciting to psychologists that they have been trying to learn more about self-talk. In one experiment, when shoppers in a supermarket talked to themselves, they located what they wanted to buy more quickly. In another study, people found certain lost items at home more easily when they talked to themselves while searching for the things. These findings hint that self-talk may be quite useful in our daily lives.

Although there are some questions about self-talk that we cannot yet answer, what we do know for sure is that self-talk has many uses. There are also different kinds of self-talk. The most well-known type is what athletes learn to do: saying a few words or phrases to rev themselves up. Another kind of self-talk is to repeat long instructions out loud as we carry out big tasks.

A third form of self-talk can help you to think more clearly, solve problems and even deal with feelings such as anger, sadness and fear.

In this new What's Up series, we will take a closer look at some of these handy ways of using self-talk. You can learn about some less common self-talk strategies like using soliloquies and even puppetry.

For 'penalty' moments
Most of the time, self-talk can help you with ordinary, day-to-day activities. Then, there are the special occasions - a little more exciting, maybe even nerve-racking - when self-talk can come to your rescue.

For an example, let us step back into the world of sports. But, this time, onto a soccer field. In the locker room, players chat with one another. Their coaches give them pep talks before they run onto the field. During play, fans chant and cheer. But, there is silence just before a penalty kick. The penalty taker and the goalkeeper stand alone, facing each other in a frozen scene for a couple of seconds. That is when each one of them will repeat her special phrase to herself. They know that they have just enough time for the magic of self-talk to work.

Likewise, when life brings you penalty moments, make self-talk score for you.