Ever since I started running last year I have struggled mentally to get through the tough parts of a run. You know the ones, where your legs feel tired and self doubt starts to creep in. That little voice in your head is screaming, “I can’t do this” “my legs hurt’, ‘I can’t breathe’, ‘I can’t go on any further’….. and crippling negativity continues to the point that you stop running!
Well I got a little fed up with hearing from this little demon and decided to look into how I could switch this negative inner voice off. There was a number of dots I had to link together to work out what worked for me. I cannot say I have totally nailed it but it is certainly better than it was.
Giving it an identity
Firstly, I decided to give the ‘inner voice’ an identity, mainly so I could tell it to ‘get lost’! I named my inner voice ‘Bob’. I have absolutely no idea why I called him Bob or why it is a ‘him’ not a ‘her’. For all you Bobs out there it is nothing personal!
By naming my inner voice Bob, it has enabled me to externalise and separate him from myself and create a different inner dialogue. I no longer hear myself, saying, ‘I can’t do this’, I hear Bob saying, ‘you can’t do this’. This means, In my case I can shout (metaphorically) at Bob, ‘ what do you know of course I can’. I start this conversation with bob just as the negativity creeps in, at the point of ‘I’ which can sometimes prevent a fully formed ‘I can’t do this’. The more you hear I can’t the more you believe it so if you can stop it at ‘I’ my theory is your already preventing some of that negativity and self doubt.
This did prevent Bob appearing quite as often but he still continued to appear and I still sabotaged my runs, just not quite so soon in the run or as frequently. The question remained what could I do to stop sabotaging my runs?
Visualisation and Mantra’s
I have read a lot about visualisation, in particular, visualising the running route, and preparing for the tough parts of the run by visualising the strategies you would use to run the route successfully. This is great if you are a visual thinker but I really struggle visualising anything, it is not how my brain works. Needless to say this was not for me.
There is also a lot of information out there on using a Mantra to improve positive thinking and self belief on a run. A mantra is a word or phrase that is used to provide a positive focus. Ideally Mantra’s need to be short enough that you can recall them quickly and easily, to divert the mind away from negative thoughts. I liked the idea of a Mantra but trying to decide on one that was relevant and powerful for me was proving difficult. I tried a few and none seemed to work so at that time, I decided it was not for me.
So here is where talking to friends can be quite enlightening at times. A friend asked me a very key question. ‘Did you ever have a humiliating sporting experience at school?’ I think most people can safely say at one point or another they did.
I hated everything about sports and sports days. I was always picked last for netball or any other sport for that matter. Possibly, more significantly, I was made to run 1500 metres on sports day and I came last. Not only did I come last, but I was spectacularly slow, I was that slow that the spectators cheering the runners on had left. I therefore, came back to the school kids laughing at me and taking the proverbial! Looking back at it now, its quite funny, however, at the time I was embarrassed and quite upset. In reality, instead of being upset I should actually have felt proud that I completed the run! But what had this got to do with my running prowess?
Finding the key to my inner dialogue
The eureka moment came when with the help of my friend I connected the dots.
The early sporting moments of being picked last because ‘I was no good at sport’ and being chosen to do the 1500 metres and coming last, had set me up to fail. Although I completed the run, in my mind and in the mind of my school friends, I did fail spectacularly as I came a very slow last.
If you hear ‘you can’t’ or ‘your no good’ or ‘you came last’ enough you start to believe it and internalise it. It becomes ‘I can’t do this’, ‘I am no good at this’ ‘I will fail’, ‘I am going to look foolish’.
As I got older I started to give myself excuses and I started to focus on the because! ‘I can’t do this because… my legs are tired’, ‘I can’t do this because ….I am struggling to breathe’, I can’t do this because……I have been ill, the list goes on and on.
How did I address it?
For me I thought that if I was going to stop sabotaging my runs – I needed to change this inner dialogue and turn the negative into a positive.
This is when I returned to the idea of having a mantra. I was listening to my running playlist and one particular song always lifted my spirits, Mark Ronson – uptown funk. There is a line in the song which is, ‘ If you don’t believe me just watch’. This was the perfect mantra for me.
Saying this in response to Bob works really well – it sounds like this:
Bob – you can’t
Me – If you don’t believe me just watch.
It motivates me, as I am essentially saying, I can do this you just watch me prove you wrong.
Does it work?
I am not saying it is full proof but it has helped me enormously. By not only adding a mantra but focusing that mantra at the route-cause of the negativity has made it much more effective. It changed my psyche from disabling to enabling and I am taking back control.
Using these techniques has helped me to not only run longer but also at a faster pace. Bob helped me get to 5K and Bob plus mantra (plus coach) helped me get to 10K. Each time you overcome that negativity and conquer your goal, you are taking the power of ‘I can’t” away. You are also turning the ‘I can’t’s into ‘ I did’s” which progresses to ‘I did it before, I can do it again’.
I don’t expect to never have a bad run or never to self-sabotage but I do intend to keep trying to find the route causes and take the control back. I will not allow negativity to continue to dis-enable me!
How do you manage your negativity on tough runs?