My early running experiences were positive. In elementary school, I was the first place runner for the girl’s race year over year until my best friend, LaShawn, dusted me in fifth grade to win the title. No hard feelings though. We’re Facebook friends.
Regardless of LaShawn, speed has remained core to my identity since childhood. This confidence is deeply embedded into my brain and has been a solid foundation for any type of athletic endurance activity I encounter. These early positive experiences have big pay off giving me an edge today. Whether I go out for marathon, lace up my cleats for the soccer pitch or ride my bicycle from San Francisco to Los Angeles, I am wired with a can do attitude when it comes to being active.
But what about the folks not born with a silver Saucony on their foot? What about the people who have negative associations with their athletic ability? How can they equalize the playing field to maximize their running experience and fitness goals?
Two words: POSITIVE VISUALIZATION.
Science has proven that the human mind does not understand the difference between real or imagined scenarios. Therefore we have the power and ability to redirect our discomforting running experiences to be more effortless and fun through positive visualization. This simple process allows the runner to use mental images of their run from start to finish. This easy technique is highly effective you can do it on your own without even hiring a sports psychologist.
For instance if you are a morning runner or trying to be one (but the snooze button is preventing you from success), imagine waking up refreshed, jumping out of bed and getting into your running gear. Visualize everything: your room, what you’re wearing even how your feet feel in your running kicks. The more detail the better. Once you are out on your “run” imagine how loose and hydrated your body feels running a decent pace. Use positive talk as well. Express how good you feel running. Notice your breathing and the environment around you. Let the mind’s eye take in the entire route. Notice the beauty and sounds of nature. Maybe you wave at a neighbor. Really enjoy the “run”. Visualize your post run stretch and the big smile on your face for accomplishing your goal. Congratulations! Your brain has just created a new positive memory that can replace some of the old records you’ve been playing. Boom! You’re welcome. I just saved you $500 in therapy.
But this is not a one-and-done type tool. Implement positive visualization often until you overcome your running insecurities completely. You can even use this for any problem you are encountering. Believe me it works! I used this technique with my soccer team once. We were losing pretty badly so during half time I invited the team to visualize scoring. Seeing the ball hit the back of the net. Slapping each other’s hands in celebration. Most teammates scoffed it off but the women who did the visualization scored in the second half. It was amazing!
Skeptics cannot even take this ancient piece of wisdom from us. One of my favorite educator’s Ernest Holmes said, “Life is a mirror and will reflect back to the thinker what he thinks into it.” In a nutshell thoughts carry a lot of power. We can use them to our benefit or our detriment. But we have a choice.
Case in point, there have been several studies indicating that just thinking about physical exercise can produce actual results in your body. In 2007, Erin M. Shackell and Lionel G. Standing of Bishop’s University tested whether mental training alone could increase muscular strength. Participants asked to cognitively rehearse exercise experienced a 24% gain in physical strength. Incredible! Say goodbye to the gym membership!
But in all seriousness the value of physical exercise has not been diminished by this study but only enhances the fact that mind over matter is the common denominator. Using positive visualization can be the ultimate conduit towards a pleasurable workout. But the first step is to believe it is so. As Barbra Streisand said in the movie, Yentl, “nothing’s impossible”.
*This blog can be found at Coeur Sports too.*