By Terri Rejimbal, RRCA certified coach
This is a continuation of my previous article title “Motivational Mantra” found at: https://stpeterunfest.org/motivational-mantra-mental-toughness/
So, what makes a good mantra? It’s been said that “where the mind goes, the body follows”. If you’re distracted during a race or workout, the body will lose awareness and your pace will drop.
Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Stephen Walker, a sports psychologist, who for 36 years has worked with many elite athletes, including 2-time Olympian Kara Goucher. Dr. Walker contributed to her book, Strong: A Runner’s Guide to Boosting Confidence and Becoming the Best Version of You, in which Kara discusses how she conquered self-doubt and shares proven tools for improving running performance while building confidence.
Mantras, listed #2 out of 8 confidence techniques, helped Kara shut out negative chatter and focus on the present.
“Everyone here is better than me. Look at them, they’ve beat you before. I’m not ready for this. Something’s off. And then there’s you.” – Kara G.
I’m sure we all have said these kinds of statements to ourselves. Talking yourself out of the competition before the race even starts – Self Defeating!
Nervous energy can be constructive in racing. However, Dr. Walker explained that if you spend too much energy worrying before the race starts, you’ll be toast half-way through. It’s a waste of precious and necessary energy, often noticeably through muscle tension and anxiety. For any distance runner, a waste of energy is a big problem! It factors into how much gas you have in the tank.
To train optimistic behavior, Dr. Walker had Kara keep a confidence journal, which I’ll save for a future article. The purpose of the journal was to train her mind to seek out 1 to 2 positive aspects that went well in her workouts or races, even if they were bad. From her journal entries, Kara was able to pick meaningful words that she could use when negative thoughts would creep into her mind. Positive self-talk reinforces confidence.
Mantras harness thoughts through instruments of thinking – framed statements that help to direct your focus on the present. They sync your body and mind to create focus and confidence to perform. Mantras keep you “centered”. It’s this fixated point of concentration that engages the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) to slow the heart rate, increase glandular activity, relax the GI tract, and help conserve energy. Like transcendental meditation, they have a vibrational quality, a rhythm that soothes the mind, and helps to narrow your concentration to eliminate distractions.
Learning to focus your mind requires time, patience, and practice. The mind will always wander, regardless of how much you rehearse or how mentally tough you are. It’s impossible to maintain full concentration in longer races, and your mind will look for opportunities for a reprieve. That’s when having a mantra can sweep in and guide you back to the task at hand.
It’s your “mission statement” and it serves a specific purpose that is deeply personal to you. It’s possible that we could have the same mantra; however, it’s underlying meaning to each of us could be entirely different. That’s what makes it incredibly personal and individual. For instance, one of Kara’s mantras was “I Belong”. Repeating this mantra helped her cope with the anxiety, self-doubt, and negativity about racing. As you can see from her previous quotes above, “I Belong” mantra is present tense and diverts her attention away from her competitors’ abilities and reinforces trust in herself to perform.
A mantra is your intention and it deeply resonates with you. Not all mantras are created equal. Each one serves a different motive, such as managing discomfort or anxiety, remaining calm, or keeping mental focus. Some examples could be: “This is My Race”, “I’m Fearless”, “Fighter”, or “Endure”. Each one is different and elicits a different response. You may even use several different mantras within one race to help you stay engaged in the present. It should inspire or excite you. If it no longer does, then it’s time to develop a new one.
Plan your attack on distractions, keep your mantras simple and in the present tense. You want your mantras to ignite an emotional spark within you. As the song, “No Distraction” by Beck goes:
What I need
What I need
What I need right now is right here
Right in front of me
Stay Focused. Positive. Present. Happy Running!
Terri Rejimbal is a competitive Masters athlete, a 3-time winner and 8-time Masters champion of the Gasparilla Distance Classic half-marathon; 6-time Disney Masters marathon winner, 7-time Florida USATF Athlete of the Year, and a New Balance product tester. Terri is a RRCA certified running coach and available for consulting or coaching services. Contact Terri at email@example.com, on Facebook/terri.rejimbal, Twitter @trejimbal, or Instagram @bayshorerunner.