Self Leadership: Better Thought Patterns for Enhanced Performance

Henry Ford famously said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” It turns out this quote is not only inspiring, it’s also true according to decades of empirical research. Constructive thought pattern strategies, including self-talk and mental imagery, are one of the three primary groups of research-based self-leadership strategies. Self-leadership describes one’s ability to motivate and influence themselves.

We all have loops that play over and over in our heads in the background. These loops are both negative and positive, and researchers refer to them as habitual ways of thinking. Specific circumstances trigger these loops, which involve our beliefs, self-talk, and imagined experiences. Self-talk and mental imagery influence one another, essentially creating our thought patterns. By becoming aware of habitual thought patterns that no longer serve us, we can consciously remove them and replace them with constructive thought patterns that lead to better outcomes.


Self-talk is what we tell ourselves, whether we’re conscious of our thoughts or not. If you don’t think that you talk to yourself, you are not yet conscious of your self-talk. If you know that you talk to yourself and haven’t done anything to influence the content, you may have noticed how critical and cruel that little voice inside can be.

Your self-talk impacts your performance—a 1977 study of 12 gymnasts who were competing for a spot on the men’s U.S.A. Olympic team found that those who made the team practiced intentional self-talk, while those who did not make the team didn’t. Numerous other studies have shown similar outcomes.

The first step in changing your self-talk is becoming aware of current ways of thinking. Try to catch yourself thinking negatively. Perhaps you’ve just finished up a meeting that went poorly, and you find yourself ridiculing your performance (e.g., I should have been more prepared). Then, you can think of a better thought to replace it with (e.g., I learned from this meeting, and I’ll prepare better next time). Once you start regularly noticing your thoughts, it will get easier, and replacing negative thoughts will naturally happen.

Mental Imagery

Mental imagery is the process of imagining the successful completion of something that hasn’t happened yet. Research indicates that positive mental imagery effectively enhances performance across many arenas and works for people of all types of personalities. When mental imagery is used in sports psychology, a basketball player might visualize themselves sinking shots during the upcoming game in preparation for the actual game.

In the professional realm, an organizational leader who has to make a speech at an important event could imagine themselves on stage, giving their speech precisely as they intend to at the actual event.

To practice mental imagery:

  1. Choose an event, small or large, that you have coming up and are feeling a little nervous about.
  2. Take some time before the event in a quiet space where you won’t be interrupted and close your eyes and take some deep breaths.
  3. Imagine yourself participating in the event as the best version of yourself.
  4. Imagine the feeling of accomplishment that you’ll have when the event is over.
  5. Repeat this exercise as many times as possible, and, eventually, you can create thought patterns that will support the outcomes you imagined.

Self-talk and positive mental imagery can boost performance for all types of tasks under many different conditions. As a self-leader, by choosing to practice positive self-talk and mental imagery intentionally, you can greatly enhance your performance on various tasks and ultimately achieve your larger goals.

Book a consultation with us now! Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions. We would love to hear from you. Email at

Click here to learn more about our services.


XcelMil, LLC is a certified Minority-Woman and Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business specializing in Executive Management Consulting and Leadership Development Training.


Self-Leadership: Make Work Easier with Natural Rewards

It’s not challenging to complete enjoyable tasks. For instance, many
of us can browse a clothing store online to buy a new blouse or read the stats from our favorite team’s last game without having to work up any willpower. On the other hand, some tasks, particularly at work, have enjoyable and unpleasant aspects, making them more challenging to get through. That’s where self-leadership, particularly the strategies known as natural rewards, comes in.

Self-leadership is the process of influencing and motivating oneself, and decades of research shows that it enhances productivity, performance, and achievement. Researchers group self-leadership strategies into behavioral-focused, natural reward strategies, and constructive thought pattern strategies. For a complete overview of self-leadership, check out XcelMil’s previous post on self-leadership. In this post, we’re diving into natural reward strategies.

Natural Reward Strategies

Natural reward strategies aim to help the self-leaders motivate themselves by focusing on an inherently enjoyable task.


Natural rewards fall into two sub-categories:

  1. The first involves finding ways to make an unpleasant task more
  2. The second is about intentionally directing one’s thoughts toward the parts of the job that are enjoyable and away from the unpleasant features.

Natural rewards tie to intrinsic motivation by way of increased competence and self-determination. Task-specific inherent reason directly impacts the task and, in turn, the individual’s overall work performance.

Natural rewards increase our attention and efforts, which can make a
specific job more relevant and exciting. When we can complete the tasks that we’ve set out to complete efficiently and effectively, it also helps us feel a greater sense of control over our work.

How to Use Natural Rewards

So, how does one put self-reward strategies into practice? Here’s your
two-part plan.

Step 1: Choose a task you have to complete for work that you’re having
difficulty getting motivated to do. Next, make a mental or physical list of the parts of the work you enjoy. For instance, perhaps you have been dreading putting together your team’s annual sales report. Maybe you identify that you like seeing the growth that your team has achieved over the year or the number of clients that you’ve been able to serve with your product or service successfully. By simply identifying what you enjoy about the work, you should already feel the dread associated with the task start to lift.

Step 2: While working on your task, keep bringing the enjoyable aspects of the work that you identified to the forefront of your mind. When you start to think negatively about the work, redirect your attention to your mental or physical list of pleasant aspects. It may be difficult at first, but it’s like flexing a mental muscle. Whenever you choose to draw your attention back, you’re getting stronger at it, and it will soon get easier.

When employed consistently, natural reward strategies can help you get
more done with less resistance, which will lead to overall better work. At XcelMil, we believe that self-leadership is a powerful tool to achieve more at a higher quality and improve your team’s performance. Contact us today to book a consultation to learn more about what we have to offer around self-leadership.

Book a consultation with us now! Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions. We would love to hear from you. Email at Click here to learn more about our services.


XcelMil, LLC is a certified Minority-Woman and Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business specializing in Executive Management Consulting and Leadership Development Training