How Runners Can Use Positive Self-Talk

marathon runners

I’m a huge advocate of using mantras, or short phrases you can repeat to yourself to stay motivated or get through rough patches during runs or races. I often repeat mantras to myself in races (“Stay strong” and “Dig deep” are two of my favorites) and I encourage runners who I coach to use them.

The use of positive self-talk has a similar, but amplified, effect as mantras. Rather than just repeating short, motivational phrases, runners who practice self-talk engage in a dialogue with themselves and make positive, uplifting statements. The self-talk can be out loud (if you don’t mind people staring at you for talking to yourself) or completely in your head, but it’s important that it stays positive. So you can say things like, “You’re totally killing this run,” or “You’re running a smart race” or “You’re so relaxed” during a run or race.

Self-Talk Can Boost Racing Performance

Sports psychologists often use motivational self-talk, and studies have found that self-talk can help athletes in a variety of situations. One Canadian study found that cyclists performed better in 95-degree weather when after they practiced positive self-talk about handling hot weather. Research suggests that runners can especially benefit from self-talk during the later stage of a race, when discomfort and pain, as well as negative thoughts, set in.

Benefits of Self-Talk for Running Motivation

You don’t have to be in racing conditions to reap the benefits of positive self-talk. If you’re trying to run more consistently, repeating positive affirmations to yourself can help you establish a running habit and improve your running motivation.

When coaching runners, I find the ones who talk positively about their progress and pat themselves on the back after completing runs are the ones who are the most consistent with their training. That doesn’t mean you have to be a braggadocio to get the benefits of positive self-talk. It can be a dialogue that’s completely in your head, telling yourself things like, “You’re awesome!” or “You totally pushed yourself during that run!” If you feel negative thoughts entering, try to replace them with positive ones.

Make sure you congratulate yourself or at least give yourself a mental high five after you’ve completed a run. Doing so can trigger the release of dopamine, a feel-good chemical messenger, which tells your brain that your run is an activity worth repeating. Positive self-talk can speed up the creation of those desired intrinsic rewards that help reinforce a running habit.

Stating your intentions and goals in a positive manner can have an incredible effect on your mindset. When we state our intentions negatively, such as, “I won’t eat too much dessert” or “I won’t blow off my run tomorrow morning”, they can chip away at our limited supply of willpower and discipline. Making a positive statement such as, “I will get in my run tomorrow morning” is much more powerful and motivating than the negative version. If it feels awkward or uncomfortable making forcing these kind of positive statements, simply try to avoid using the word “not” in your self-talk. Keep at it, and it will eventually start to feel more natural and instinctive.

You can also use these types of positive statements to prepare for a potential obstacle to your running habit. Rather than saying, “I won’t skip my run if I get busy,” you can tell yourself, “When I feel stressed, I’ll go for a run. I’ll feel better.” With these types of affirmations, you’re already preparing yourself for your reward for running, which will help reinforce your running habit.

And your positive self-talk doesn’t have to be related just to your running. Congratulate yourself for completing the mini-habits associated with your running habit. For example, if you lay out your running clothes the night before a long run, tell yourself how well-organized and disciplined you are. Say to yourself, “Way to go, you did it!” when waking up early to get your morning run done. If you eat a healthy salad rather than fast food for lunch, tell yourself, “What a great, healthy choice. You’ll feel a lot better for the rest of the day.” Rewarding yourself with self-talk for those mini-habits will make you more likely to do them, which helps reinforce your running habit.

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