Bruce Wayne, Too, Wonders What Batman Would Do

Positive self-talk motivates superheroes as well as me and you.

Posted Sep 18, 2020

What would Batman do? That is a question we might all ask ourselves from time to time. It’s certainly a question that permeates popular culture and can be found on many T-shirts, coffee mugs, and more. It’s a truly viral internet meme and we can all ask ourselves what the Dark Knight’s decision might be and use that as a guide of how (or often how not) to proceed. Even Bruce Wayne might ask himself what his alter ego might do. But why would that kind of superhero “self-talk” be helpful?

There’s considerable evidence showing that positive self-talk can enhance performance across many tasks and activities. This goes for fine motor things like putting in golf to much bigger gross motor power moves like maximum arm and leg contractions. It also improves things like endurance performance in 10 km runs.

Batman’s mission of vengeance, one given birth after that awful night in Crime Alley when his parents were gunned down literally before his very eyes, can easily be thought of as one requiring extreme endurance of motivation and implementation. Maybe for motivation we should think of self-talk and how to do it for Bruce Wayne?

It turns out that the role of self-talk is much more subtle and powerful than just obvious things like being positive rather than negative. Grammar matters in a way that I suspect would make proud that most proper English gentleman, Alfred Pennyworth.

To find out about the role of grammatical choice between self-talk using first (I can do this) or the more “distant” second (you can do this) person pronouns, James Hardy and colleagues Aled Thomas and Anthony Blanchfield at Bangor University in Wales did a clever study.

Hardy and colleagues recruited 16 recreationally active men in their early 20s to participate in several 10 km cycling time trials using different forms of self-talk. I have to point out that they were very spot on in studying folks with Batman-like activities such as rugby, boxing, soccer, Gaelic football, and rock climbing!

Anyway, by comparing results across the different sessions of self-talk, they found that the second person (you can do it) versions allowed folks to do the 10 km trial faster, at a higher intensity, and with a lower perceived exertion when contrasted with 1st person conditions.

What isn’t articulated is who might be giving voice to the “you.” Although it wasn’t identified and might be the focus of future work, I like to imagine Bruce Wayne hearing Batman telling him “you can do it” as he summons the courage, strength and the will to act each and every day.

You and I can enhance our capabilities when we imagine a benign (yet bad*ss) Batman over our shoulders telling us “you can do it.” Or maybe “you will do it (or else).” When we choose to do what Batman encourages us to do we really are doing what Batman would do. This obtains for Bruce Wayne's brain and the one you train. And what better motivator than whispers from the Dark Knight Detective can help discover our determination, the will to act, and bit of Batman buried within to reveal the superhero in us?

© E. Paul Zehr (2020).