Believe in Yourself: The power of self belief

Believing that you can do something is vital to your success as an athlete. This essentially is a positive attitude about yourself, your training, and your racing. Additionally, self-belief or self trust is the ability to know your body and respond to it appropriately. You need to be able to trust the feedback you are getting from your training and then adjust accordingly. If you do not believe that you can do something it will be harder to accomplish it.

Knowing your fitness and being able to read your body’s feedback is key. If a workout really expends your energy and you feel on the edge of overtraining or an injury, you need to be confident enough to back off instead of charging ahead. This is a fine line. Daniels talks about this when says that you shouldn’t make a workout harder until it feels easy. Rarely do I have enough time in training to do things this way but the philosophy is still sound. I often don’t move up in distance on my long runs until I can put in a surge the last two or three miles to finish fast. This lets me know that I have more in the tank and can successfully add a couple of miles the next week.

The power of the stories we tell ourselves

Psychologist Stan Beecham in his book Elite Minds talks a lot about the stories that we tell ourselves and how those narratives impact our future. Many times these stories become self fulfilling prophesies.  Beecham talks a lot about how our beliefs influence our behavior and our thoughts. If you can have positive beliefs, if the story that you believe about yourself is a positive one, you will be more successful as an athlete. If you don’t consciously believe that you can accomplish a big goal you will be less likely to take the actions you need to make it a reality.

Self belief and Process Goals

When you turn your attention to process goals rather than times or race placings (which you cannot control), you are more likely to have success. The process goal of using a mantra for the final 4 miles of your half marathon is a goal you have total control over whereas finishing in the top five in you age group is not really under your control. By accomplishing a lot of process goals during training and racing your confidence and ability to accomplish things will increase. You will believe more in yourself because as an athlete you are being more successful at the things you are trying to do. The process is what you want to master. The better results you get from your process based goals the more confidence that you will develop. This confidence will be translated into more self belief come race day.

The psychobiological model of endurance performance hinges on motivation. Essentially you will keep running at that pace until you either are no longer motivated enough to endure the effort or you think that you don’t have enough in the tank. This is why running by feel is such a powerful tool. When you look at your watch you subconsciously tell yourself, “I need to slow down” or “I need to speed up or I’m not going to hit my time goal” or some other thing that is simply not true as it is based on the inherent inaccuracy of a “current pace” GPS measurement.  These negative thoughts contribute to our internal narrative and are manifested with changes in perception of effort. The story that you tell yourself out on the race course, trails, or the roads, needs to be based on the reality of the physical feedback you are getting from your body not some electronic device strapped to your wrist. This is important because of the myriad of factors outside of your effort, that contribute to your actual pace. This allows you to put your performance in perspective. Knowing that you gave your best effort based on how you felt means you have no regrets about your performance. If your goal time was not hit you know that it’s because of something you could not control and not from your lack of effort.  Focusing on process goals and getting in tune with your body are keys to developing a solid base of self belief as a runner.

A lack of self belief will create anxiety about accomplishing your goal. Although a big goal has to scare you, you still need to believe that you can do it. A large part of this is understanding the work that you have to do and instead focusing on that. That work you have to do, the intermediate milestones that you have to hit become your process goals in training and should dominate your focus. I only race two or three times a year. Focusing on a time that I will hit for these races is a misplaced focus. Instead my goals include making sure to fit in strength work after each and every run. That I spend time with my foam roller ion my easy days. I make sure that before my big long runs I pay attention to what I am eating to set myself up or success. All of these things are well within my control and are the bread and butter of successful training. I know that doing these things are the best way to set myself up for success come race day. By focusing on the present reality of training, you can minimize the anxiety of race day and make it a celebration of you training rather than some kind of judgment about your value as a person or a runner.

Practical Steps

Okay. So how do I improve my self belief? How do I tell myself a positive story?

Believe that you have no failures simply events that you learn from. View your training aa series of experiments. If something doesn’t turn out the way your thought tell yourself “that’s interesting” rather than “that sucked.” Come away from a race or a workout not with the idea that you did not accomplish something but that you now know more about how to improve the next time out. You can choose to focus on not hitting your goal time or rejoice that you now know that you need to tweak your nutrition plan or that your pace was a little too aggressive. This can be insanely difficult. Ask yourself what do I know now that I didn’t before this workout or race? What adjustments can I make to my training to perform better next time out? What process goal can I work on to master this aspect of my training? By continually asking how you can improve your training process, and working that feedback into your training, you can remain positive and be confident about your abilities come race day.

Enjoy the Run


Elite Minds by Stan Beecham

How Bad Do You Want It by Matt Fitzgerald

Daniels Running Formula by Jack Daniels

The psychobiological model: a new explanation to intensity regulation and (in)tolerance in endurance exercise

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