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Head Check: Self Doubt to Self Confidence

In my work with novice runners, experienced runners, and elite competitors, I know that everyone struggles with self-doubt at times. As many of us who deal daily with the challenges of mental illness however, self-doubt can be a constant companion. While doubts can often be present as we work towards our training or racing goals, we can strive to minimize their effect. Here are some thoughts on how to deal with self-defeating beliefs.


  1. Re-Live: Developing some explanation for yourself for a less than satisfactory effort is typically the first step in determining whether and how you’ll move forward. You risk getting stuck in the assumption that you’re “just not good enough” despite all of the effort and emotion you’ve put into your preparation unless you evaluate what/why things went poorly. It’s necessary to distinguish between the things that were in your control versus those that were not. To identify causes, make a list of anything you think might have hurt your performance. Next, draw a large circle and write inside of it the things that you believe were within your control. (e.g. effort, training consistency, nutrition, sleep and recovery, etc.) Outside of the circle, write down the things that were out of your control. (e.g. weather, illness…). Focus on the factors that are controllable, work to improve what went wrong there, and let go of any angst associated with things out of your control. Self-doubt and fear develop as a result of not knowing why. Once you know why you had a disappointing performance, you can work toward preventing it from happening again.

  2. Replace: To be successful you must learn to deal with and to master failure. Instead of ruminating on negative thoughts, reframe the meaning of poor experiences and use the experience as a means of getting stronger. Cognitive restructuring strategies, such as positive self-talk often lead to increases in confidence levels. This technique must be practiced, however, until you can develop an automatic response system to your negative belief systems. All of us have “stories” that we have about ourselves. But we also have the power to counter these defeatist beliefs from our past. For example, your “story” maybe that “I always run poorly in the heat.” This thought can be revised to “In the heat, I go out conservatively and finish strong and steady.”

  3. Rehearse: Mental imagery scripts are a good way to help prepare yourself for any mental setbacks that you may encounter. By rehearsing an event ahead of time, starting at the very beginning of any given performance, and going through every aspect of it until the end, you’ll be better prepared…. Change the channel and focus on performing well, instead of giving in to what you fear.

The first step to responding to your fears in a positive way is to recognize them. List 3 things you fear during a race or training session. Then list 3 of your strengths and create a script about how you can overcome your fears using the strengths you’ve listed. It’s important to use all 5 senses here and to make your script as vivid as possible. Read your script daily, and prepare to face your fears ahead of time with a concrete plan.

Tips from the Top: “Get Over It”

Elites and Olympians offer some thoughts on how to rebound from disappointing performances….

Accept It: “No matter what the time, a race effort advances your fitness and gives you more benefit than a training workout gives you.” (Two-time Olympian Alan Culpepper).

Understand It: “Figure out what happened…Did you have enough base mileage? Did overtraining lead to fatigue/injury? Do you need a coach? The times when we’re not getting the performances we want is when we learn the most if we’re willing to look, and to grow.” (Olympic medalist Deena Kastor).

Go Forward: “One race is not the be-all, end-all. There are always other races/challenges that you can take on. You can plan for a race or a training session but if something happens, you have to move on.” (Four-time Olympian Colleen DeReuck)

Moving forward, as you tap into your inner confidence remember that you’re surefire winners, one and all… Or, as my Dad often told me…” You were built to last, and last you will”. Thanks, Dad…You were right.


By Pam Landry

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