7 Ways to Avoid Mental Self-Destruction

How often do you say any of the following things to yourself?

  • My mother or father had a health problem (bad knees, died early of a heart attack, had cancer, etc.), I must have it too.
  • I'm not training enough hours to do well at my race.
  • I am not fast enough to do an X-minute per mile pace.
  • I don't have the body shape it takes to be a fast athlete.
  • My genetics are bad; I'll never get on the podium.
  • The others in my age group are much (better, faster, stronger, leaner, richer, have better job situations...etc.) than I am. They will always beat me.
  • Other negative self-talk?

Mentally Focus on the Positive, Create a Positive Reality

In addition to the story above, here are a few tips to help you move to a more positive mental state. These tips are focused on athletics; but, they can be used in many other aspects of your life.

1. Speak well of your health. Don't dwell on aches and pains or they will reward you by visiting more often or staying longer. If you have an injury that needs attention, seek a medical professional that can help you take steps to heal and eliminate the problem. Others have healed and you can too.

2. Visualize and speak well of your athletic abilities. I'm not telling you to be a bragger and spend all your conversations talking about how great you are; but do accept compliments on your abilities. Don't dwell on training sessions or races that didn't meet your expectations. Everyone has a bad day now and again.

3. Look for incremental successes and believe you can improve. Beginners often see huge gains in fitness and performance. As you gain more experience as an athlete, the gains are smaller and often more difficult to attain. Sometimes, small improvements in race performance come from improving other aspects of your life (Job, relationships, sleep habits, nutrition, etc.).  Look for small ways to improve yourself each day.

4. Set your own standards of success. Yes, if you plan to make the Olympic team or get a podium spot, you will need to compare yourself to other athletes. However, look at where you are right now and begin brainstorming what steps are necessary to achieve your dreams. Can you take one small step today?

5. Write it down. First write down all the things that are positive about your health, you as an athlete and you as a human. Next write down your goals. The third step is to begin working backwards from the goal to present day. Jot down the steps you will need to take to achieve your goals. Notice how Nos. 3, 4 and 5 are synergistic.

6. Spend time with friends that are optimistic and seek personal improvement. Spending time with negative people that always look for what is "wrong" with any situation can pull you down. In turn, don't pull other people down with negative comments. Seek out people that are optimistic and looking for self-improvement.

7. "Live to great success, not to avoid failure." This concept comes from the Denis Waitley book mentioned earlier. I've used this same concept many times in the past and it is to put dreams and goals in positive terms. Avoid putting goals in negative terms. For example, "I want to complete my race with a time goal between XX:00 to YY:00" is better than, "I don't want to be last." Aiming for a goal time is better than avoiding last place. 

As you make your way through today, this week and this month, take note of how many times you begin to visualize failure or poor performances. How often do you think poorly of your abilities or training performance? How often do you imagine the boxcar is freezing, when it is not?

Do not allow mental self-destruction. Recognize damaging self-talk and begin to take steps to change those thoughts and your actions into positive images geared toward achieving dreams and goals.

For a look at how human willpower is attributed some incredible tales of survival, read the blog: The Pygmalion Effect - Are You a Believer?


Gale Bernhardt was the 2003 USA Triathlon Pan American Games and 2004 USA Triathlon Olympic coach for both the men's and women's teams. Her first Olympic experience was as a personal cycling coach at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Thousands of athletes have had successful training and racing experiences using Gale's pre-built, easy-to-follow training plans. For more information, click here. Let Gale and Active Trainer help you succeed.

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