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negative self talk

This article was co-authored by coach Jeff Lukich of Drive Multisport, LLC and Maria Simone of No Limits Endurance Coaching

How Successful Endurance Athletes “Flip the Script” on Negative Self-Talk

It’s normal to have negative self-talk after a bad workout or race – It’s only human.  It’s just impossible to think “happy thoughts” all the time.  In fact, it can sometimes be counterproductive because forcing ourselves to do so can be a form of denial and prevent us from truly addressing our concerns.  

Successful athletes are able to quickly “flip the script” and reframe their thinking.  When we can reframe our thinking, we can then work on how we can learn and improve.  Don’t misunderstand.  It’s okay to wallow in that negative space for a minute – but don’t linger there.  And remember to call yourself out on your own BS.  Have your pity party, cry, scream, curse, whatever.  Just get it out and move on.  

Here are some strategies that endurance athletes can use to turn negative self-talk into positive, productive thinking:

1.  Acknowledge your feelings and give yourself time to process them

Feeling disappointed, frustrated, or even angry after a bad workout or race is okay.  Give yourself time to process those emotions before reframing your thinking.  Once you’ve acknowledged your feelings, it will be easier to move on.

2.  Identify the negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones

No, it’s not easy, and it takes practice.  But words matter.  Negative self-talk usually takes the form of generalizations (“I always screw up races”) or catastrophic thinking (“This race is ruined”).  Once you identify these thoughts, you can start to replace them with more positive, productive ones.  For example, “I had a bad race, but I’ll learn from it and come back stronger” or “I didn’t have my best day, but there’s always another race.”

3.  Nail down your genuine concern

When a training session or race goes sideways, taking a step back is essential to figuring out what you’re genuinely concerned about.  Are you worried about your fitness?  Do you have concerns about your mental strength, grit, or resilience?  Are you concerned that your training program isn’t working?  Whatever it is, nail it down so you can talk about it.  And be honest.

“It’s also important to remember that everyone has bad days.  Remind yourself that this is only one workout or race.  Even the most successful athletes have off days where everything feels hard.”

Once you’ve identified the root of your concern, you can then begin to “flip the script” on your negative self-talk.  Instead of beating yourself up about a bad workout, or blaming others, try to focus on the positive aspects of your training.  For example, if you had a bad run, focus on the fact that you could get out there and do it in the first place.  If you’re worried about your fitness, remind yourself of how far you’ve come and all your progress.

It’s also important to remember that everyone has bad days.  Remind yourself that this is only one workout or race.   Even the most successful athletes have off days where everything feels hard.  The key is not letting one bad workout or race cause you to lose sight of your goals and ruin your week, month, or race season.  Just keep moving forward, and don’t give up on your goals.

4.  Focus on the process, not the result

One of the best ways to reframe your thinking after a bad workout or race is to focus on the process, not the result.  Sure, the outcome is important, but the process got you there.  Remind yourself of why you’re doing this in the first place and what you love about the sport.  This will help you stay motivated and keep things in perspective.

5.  Talk to someone who will understand and offer guidance, support, and accountability

It can be helpful to talk to someone who understands what you’re going through and can offer support.  Hopefully, this will be your coach, but you could also speak to a friend, a fellow athlete, or a family member who “gets it”.  Talking about your experience can help you process it in a more positive and productive way.

6.  Use visualization to reframe your thinking

Visualization is a powerful tool that can help you reframe your thinking after a bad workout or race.  Visualize yourself crossing the finish line of your next race or nailing that challenging workout.  This will help you stay positive and focused on your goals.  Visualization in sports is a deep topic on its own, so we recommend researching what might work best for you.

Endurance athletes need to be able to handle setbacks and failures.  Using these strategies to reframe your thinking, you’ll be able to turn negative self-talk into positive, productive thinking.  Remember, “flipping the script” takes time, commitment, and practice.  So, stick with it! 

Maria Simone No Limits Endurance
Maria Simone

Maria Simone is a veteran endurance coach who owns and operates No Limits Endurance, an inclusive triathlon and run coaching platform based in Colorado. Maria coaches athletes across a variety of disciplines, including swimming, cycling, running, and triathlon, including non-traditional ultra-distance events. She's a PhD with coaching credentials covering USAT & USAC Level 2 Coach, US Masters Swimming, USA Cycling, and UESCA Ultrarunning.

Jeff Lukich Triathlon Endurance Coach
Jeff Lukich
Endurance Coach at Drive Multisport | Website

Jeff Lukich is the owner and head coach of Drive Multisport and leads Better Triathlete's coach match program. He is a USA Triathlon (USAT) Level 1, USA Cycling (USAC) Level 2, and USA Track & Field (USATF) certified coach. A 10x Ironman finisher and Boston Marathon Qualifier, Jeff specializes in coaching long-course triathletes, ultra-runners, marathoners, cyclists, and athletes with unique events, such as double Ironman, staged races, and SwimRun events. Learn more about Jeff.