The Power of Positive Thought
Mental strength and self-talk for runners
by Coach Jenni Nettik
I can’t do this.
I’m having an off day.
I’m just not as strong as . . .
Do any of those thoughts sounds familiar? Probably, all athletes have negative self-talk, it’s how a runner responds to self-doubt and negative thoughts that sets him or her apart from the pack. I’ve found that racing comes down to three things: fitness and health, nutrition and fueling, mental strength and self-talk.
For me, mental strength was the missing piece of the puzzle for successful racing. It was my weakness, now it’s a challenge I enjoy. Athletes use a lot different techniques to tackle the mental aspect of sports. I have a few tips to help you get started working on your mental game.
1. Understand that everyone has negative self-talk.
First, I think it’s important to realize that you’re not alone. All athletes battle the voice in their head when the going gets tough–even that person in front of you, and the winner of the race. Mental strength is something you can practice and increase like fitness.
2. Become aware of it.
I don’t think people always recognize how often they have negative thoughts or create excuses that set themselves up for failure, or a less than ideal performance. Have you ever thought, I’m feeling tired today? Well, that may be true, but what’s the benefit of telling yourself that over and over? What do you hope to gain by telling everyone that you didn’t sleep last night? What you’re doing is giving yourself an out, telling yourself it’s okay to run a little slower or skip the workout altogether. Does that help you reach your goal? No.
3. Stop it!
Once you’re able to recognize negative self-talk, you can stop it. The easiest way to stop negative thoughts is to simply say, “Stop” to yourself when you have a negative thought. Saying it out loud, or under your breath, makes you even more aware of it. Think you need a little more feedback? Try wearing a rubber band around your wrist, and snap it when you have a negative thought. Again, this makes you aware of your negative thoughts, and provides a consequence to help change your behavior.
4. Replace your thoughts.
So, it’s a speed day, and speed work is hard. You’re doing fartleks, and all you can think is, I hate these. First, stop the negative thought. Now, try rephrasing your thought so it’s neutral or positive. For example, you could say, three down, only five to go, each one gets me closer to the end. An even more powerful positive thought would be, this is making me stronger and faster, helping me reach my goal, I’m going to qualify for Boston.
5. Find your Mantras
Mantras are short phrases that you repeat to yourself, they’re powerful thoughts. A mantra can be something as simple as, I can do this. It can also be a cue like, relaxed and smooth, shoulders down. A mantra should be personal because different things motivate different people.
Having multiple mantras is helpful for different phases of run or race. Early on, use something simple like, I’m strong. Later, when things get tough, use a more powerful mantra like, growth comes when you are uncomfortable.
Practice your mantras in training, just like you practice your fueling, you want to be prepared and know how to use them on race day. Mantras can replace negative thoughts, or be used as meditation to prevent negative self-talk from creeping in.
6. When you feel good, embrace it.
Sometimes, everything goes according to plan. You’re on a run or in race and your mind is blank, the time is vanishing, and you feel great! Know that your hard work has paid off, and enjoy the feeling!
Positive thought is a powerful tool for running–and life in general.
How do you use mental strength and self-talk when running and racing?