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The Voice Inside Your Head
“Take the most of every step.” “Regret hurts more than the race.” “Courage and trust.”
These are the mantras, or power phrases, that run through professional runner Heather Kampf’s head during races. A four-time national champion in the 1-mile road race and a prolific competitor, she knows a thing or two about the importance of controlling your inner narrative. In fact, she says that practicing this type of self-talk is just as essential as other aspects of her training.
“I think once you get deep into a race of any distance, everyone is just battling the temptation to slow down and make it feel better,” she says. “These mantras help me combat those thoughts, to stay in ‘the now’ and to remember that embracing the pain and the moment will likely lead to worthwhile results and memories.”
Research published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science backs up Kampf’s experience. In examining 32 sports psychology studies, researchers discovered that motivational self-talk can help boost confidence and readiness to compete, particularly in endurance events.
How does this work? The key is to be intentional about the way you’re directing your thoughts. While this can take some practice, over time and training, these positive mantras will dominate your brain’s mental script.
“You have to ask yourself: ‘How do I race my best?’ ‘How do I want to feel?’” explains Cindra Kamphoff, Ph.D., a certified mental performance consultant, coach and author of the new book Beyond Grit. “Sometimes runners will just let the thoughts and feelings come to them, but you can be in charge of how you feel when you intentionally talk to yourself in a particular way.”
Kampf agrees, saying, “Most of my mantras are about staying present and mindful. They help build resolve to get the most out of yourself and can almost meditatively get you through the tougher parts of a race.”
“It can be the difference between surviving and thriving and really reaching your potential,” adds Kamphoff.
So how do you come up with your own mantras or power phrases? Here’s a step-by-step guide.
Check In With Your Thinking.
In order to be more intentional about the direction of your thoughts, you must first tap into your current mental chatter. The next time you’re out running, figure out where your head is at. Is your thinking positive, negative, distracted or focused?
Acknowledge And Accept
Accept the thoughts you noticed in step 1. Even if they are less than productive, it’s not worth wasting energy trying to eliminate them. It’s better to focus on intentionally steering your mind in a more positive direction.
Choose Your Mantra(s)
You might choose one mantra to get you through an entire race, but you’ll more likely benefit from having several options in your arsenal. Kamphoff advises that your phrase be process-oriented, rather than outcome-oriented. Something like “smooth and fast” or “light and strong” will be more effective than “I’m gonna win today!”
Make Sure You Believe It
“If you don’t believe the self-talk, it’s not going to work,” Kamphoff says. As such, be sure you choose mantras or power phrases that you truly buy into.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Be sure to utilize your phrases in training so they are ready and waiting when you need them most in a race. It can be challenging to call up positive thoughts in the heat of competition, so training your mind to default to this line of thought is important.
Write It Down
Writing something down helps commit it to memory. You can write down your mantras in a training journal, on a notecard you put in your gym bag or on a Post-it note you stick on your bathroom mirror. You can even write them on your hand the morning of a race—then when the going gets tough, you’ll have them right at your fingertips.