Whether you think you can or can't, you're right.
- Henry Ford
What you say when you talk to yourself is shown to have a big impact on all areas of your life. The Henry Ford quote above sums up the idea that your thoughts become a self-fulfilling prophecy - and the body of research on athletic performance is showing that by being mindful of what you think while you train, you can give your training and performance a shot in the arm.
For martial arts training, the main types of self talk are instructional and motivational.
Instructional self talk is what you tell yourself when you're learning and developing a new skill or technique - especially ones where you need to develop accuracy. Short phrases act as cues to guide you through the steps you need to perform.
In practical terms, if you're working on low forearm blocks you might remind yourself "cross", "elbow bent" or "fist to hip" before each movement; if you are working on walking stances you might string together some words such as "front knee bent, back leg straight"; or you might come up with a short phrase that guides you through the process such as "knee bent ... feet nearly together ... up ... down" when you are working on your walking stance sine wave.
Motivational self talk is (as the name suggests) what you tell yourself to keep you motivated, on task, stay positive and face challenges head on using short positive phrases such as "let's go", "I know I can do it", "let's try that again".
How to Increase the Benefit of Self Talk
Make sure your phrases are positive - for example, try "aim high" rather than "don't miss". In fact purge your self talk vocabulary of words such has "can't", "should" and "don't"!
Practice your self talk. Make a conscious effort to decide what you want to say to yourself in training and spend time working out which phrases and words click with you. What works for one person won't necessarily work for another.
And remember ... don't tell yourself anything during training that you wouldn't tell a friend! Recruit yourself as an ally in your training using positive self talk strategies and watch your frustration dissolve and your performance improve.