As the saying goes, running is 10% physical, and 90% mental. Are you holding yourself back from a personal record because you are struggling to get out of your own head? Common mental blocks and ways to overcome them are described.
One Mental Block that runners often face is “imposter syndrome.” This phenomenon occurs when the athlete feels that he or she does not belong in a particular running race or running field, due to a lack of confidence in his or her abilities. Often times, these athletes project their own feelings about themselves onto others, and worry that those people will judge the athlete’s performance before the race even begins. Overcoming a lack of confidence is multifaceted, one that requires learning to ignore the negative voice inside your head.. The best approach is to practice confidence daily during your training. This may involve using a mantra such as “I can and I will” or visualization exercises during workouts.
Another common mind block is the game of “what if”? Runners often waste mental energy in the days and weeks leading up to a big race by worrying about every “what if” scenario possible. What if the weather is bad for the race? What if I don’t run my best? What if I get injured during the race? What if an unknown competitor shows up and beats me? These scenarios are all impossible to control, which makes worrying futile. The best way to avoid wasting precious mental energy is to focus solely on what you can control, according to mental game coach Dean Hebert. “Controllables” include your own attitudes, actions, inactions, thoughts, feelings, and reactions, while “uncontrollables” include the weather and thoughts/feelings/actions of others.
Runners have a tendency to be comparative, both of themselves and others. However, when approached negatively, these comparisons do little more than destroy an athlete’s confidence. While the easiest way to avoid comparisons is to ignore what others are doing in the first place, this is not always feasible. Instead, the next time you catch yourself comparing your accomplishments to someone else, take a step back, mentally, and ask yourself what you are gaining. Comparisons do not change your present fitness level or ability, and serve no useful purpose.
Finally, general anxiety may plague a runner in the days leading up to the race. Commonly, irrational fears are to blame in this scenario, such as not being able to finish the race, worrying that friends or family members will regret traveling to cheer for you, or simply fearing the race itself. One tactic is to set a timer for a short duration, such as 5 – 10 minutes, and write down all of your anxieties. Once the timer is up, spend another 5 - 10 minutes writing down why each fear is irrational. For instance, if you wrote down that you are afraid you won’t finish the race, remind yourself that you trained hard, and unless something catastrophic happens (which would be rare), not finishing shouldn’t be a concern. After this exercise is complete, use it as a reference sheet every time you have a negative thought.
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