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The Power of Positive Thinking

As we near the end of the fall racing season, now is the time that many people reflect on how they did. Did you get the PR you wanted? Were you able to finish the way you wanted? Most importantly, did you enjoy the experience?

As an athlete and a marathoner, I am always looking for ways to improve. The period in between training cycles is the best time to look back on the training you put in and evaluate what went well and how you can change it to improve next year.

One often-overlooked component that too many people don’t spend time thinking about is the mental game. How did you deal with the negative thoughts that we all have? (trust me, even the elite athletes have them) Recently, I was able to speak with a sports psychologist who helped me realize that there are two major components to consider: recognizing your negative and positive thoughts, and how to change your negative thoughts to positive ones.

Recognizing Negative and Positive Thoughts
Take a second and think about a run you’ve been on that was awful. What were you thinking?

“It’s really hot out.”
“It’s cold.”
“My legs feel heavy.”
“I don’t want to do this right now.”
“My foot hurts a little bit.”
“I can’t hit that split.”
“How can I ever run a marathon if this run is hard?”

The possibilities are endless. I’m sure there are many more vulgar and intense things you think, but you get the gist. One thing is true: usually these thoughts have a negative vibe to them.

Now think about an awesome run. What were you thinking?

“I feel great.”
“My legs feel springy.”
“I am happy to be running.”
“It’s a beautiful day out.”
“I could run forever.”

Again, the possibilities are endless. Usually when you feel good, your thoughts are positive.

This may seem obvious, but it is important to recognize that having negative thoughts is normal, and changing it to a positive one is possible. If you have never thought about the negative and positive thoughts YOU have, how could you change them?

How to Change Negative Thoughts to Positive Ones
We have internal and external thoughts as they relate to the environment. Internal thoughts are about your own body; these will be about how you feel: sluggish, slow or tired. External thoughts are about things outside of your body: it is windy out, that guy just passed me or I don’t like that song. Each person will respond better to one of these, and it’s important to have strategies predetermined on how to use both of them.

Mantras are a great way to change your negative thought process. Mantras are short sayings that mean something to you. My internal mantra is, “Quick feet” or “Light on your feet.” When the racing gets tough and I start having those negative thoughts, I will repeat this saying in my head or sometimes out loud to convince myself that I can hold the pace.

My external mantra is, “Don’t let the string break.” I imagine a string wrapped around me and the group I am running with, and if I start to fall off the group, I can’t let the string break. It’s something I will say in my head. If one does not work, I will use the other.

These mantras work for me — but what might work for you? Find something that helps you overcome the negative thoughts and use them during you runs leading up to the race.

I’ll finish with a story from the famed coach Jack Daniels. He is one of the most scientific coaches out there when it comes to how the body works, but he also believes in the importance of having a strong mind. He tells a story about how one of his athletes was running a 10K on the track and started to fall off the back of the lead group. The runner passed by Jack with six laps to go and asked to drop out. On the next lap Jack said, “You can drop out as soon as you catch the leaders.” So the runner caught up to the other runners with one lap to go. The runner didn’t drop out and actually won the race.

After the race Jack asked the runner, “Why didn’t you drop out?” And the runner said, “There was one lap left, and I could fight for one lap.” The runner was able to change his thought from “I have so many laps left” and “I am already falling off the pace” to “I just have to catch them, and I can drop out.”

Get thinking and find your mantras!

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