You can learn specific techniques for positive thinking from elite marathoners, who cultivate this essential mental skill to power through uncomfortable and painful marathons for peak performance.
Every day I train mentally and physically to beat pain.
You know, the guy who beats pain and is well prepared is the guy who will win.
In a big marathon, the good runners have all trained and are prepared physically. It comes down to mental strength.
Pain doesn’t kill; the winner is the guy who resists pain and survives it.”
Hendrick Ramaala 1
Inside the Mind of a Marathon Runner
Researchers William Morgan and Michael Pollock studied the psychological makeup of marathoners in 1977.
They found that elite and sub-elite marathoners used two mental strategies: associative and dissociative.
An associative strategy is an internal process – gauging pace, performing body scans, and paying attention to thoughts.
A dissociative strategy is an external process – looking at the scenery, listening to music, or thinking about anything else to distract from the present pain.
On race day, elite marathoners rely on an associative strategy, especially during the final miles. The reason? Paying attention to bodily sensations and internal dialogue lets them adjust to the moment – like maintaining running pace, good running form, and positive thinking.
It’s this internal, associative strategy, that’s the key difference between elite and sub-elite marathoners.
When your legs scream stop and your lungs are bursting. That’s when it starts. That’s the hurt locker. Winners love it in there.”
2 Techniques for Positive Thinking
There’s two specific techniques for positive thinking: mantras and subgoals.
1// Mantras: A short statement that’s positive, action filled, and recalls the feelings you need to experience at the moment.
In an interview with Women’s Running, Shalane Flanagan talks about her running mantras:
With each build up to a specific race, I have different mantras.
For the Olympics Games it was, “Run without any regrets.”
For the Olympic Trials, it was, “Cold execution.”
I wanted to put the emotion aside to make sure I made the team without letting the emotions of making an Olympic team get to me.
My mantra is always changing and evolving with each race situation.” 2
Elite marathoner Kara Goucher used the mantra “be courageous” in her debut 2008 New York City Marathon.3
Learn more about creating your own effective mantras here.
2// Subgoals: Break a race, task or project into manageable chunks to reduce overwhelm.
If you’re a runner, focus on the mile you’re running instead of the next 6 miles.
If you’ve picked a task and it seems too hard to get started, make it even easier: just do one minute.
If that’s too hard, just do 20 seconds.
That’s so easy you can’t say no.”
Leo Babuata, Zen Habits 4
Have you used any of these techniques for positive thinking? Leave a comment below!