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The power of positive self talk
by on Thursday, November 7, 2013  (2 comments)

I've been thinking a lot lately about the mental aspect of running. As some of the runners I coach know, I've been exploring ideas of how I can introduce mental aspects into an online coaching setting. Here is a good idea of how that might be done.

In short, in the study discussed, pre-planned and well practiced positive self talk appears to have helped athletes push harder while feeling the effort was less difficult.

What can we take from this? Well, this study reminded me of mantras that every coach I've had has encouraged and I've recommended at various times to runners. In the past, I thought of good mantras being anything from positive self talk to reminders to run tall or keep a quick turnover. While the reminders obviously are helpful as they can keep us focused on good habits, I always believed in the positive self talk but never really could say how it worked. Now, we have some data that shows that it works by lowering your perceived exertion.

This also plays into the idea that performance is limited by, to use a Tim Noakes term, a "central governor" as opposed to pure physiological constraints. I still think the physiological constraints are important. If your "central governor" shuts you down at 90% of capacity (just a hypothetical number) increasing your overall capacity will also increase that 90% threshold. That said, for a little extra boost, if positive self talk allows you to push to 91% or 92% of capacity, then you can perform at an even higher level given the same fitness.

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2 comments
Ed:

There is a commercial on TV that kind of points to this - I am pretty sure that it is for a sports drink. It shows an athlete going through weight training and many football drills constantly saying "One more" "One more" even shows a the words of "One more" in tape on the weight room ceiling. Essentially telling yourself that you can handle one more.

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Ryan:

Interesting thought. I do think there is a difference, though. "One more" is a common refrain to get you to focus on the task at hand. Just one more, I can do it. Or just focus on this one. Then focus on the next one and so on.

This is different because, instead of focusing on how much is left, you're telling yourself that you're still feeling good. You're not giving yourself an out, you're reminding yourself you can handle it or even convincing yourself that you still feel good, even if you don't. I think both of these can play a role. For example, I sometimes tell myself "only 1/4 mile to go, time to go all out" when late in a race. However, I can pair that with "feeling good", "feeling strong" or something along that line to overcome the perception of fatigue.

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