One study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology found that when young swimmers were given guidance on how to implement positive self-talk during competition, they saw significant performance improvements over a control group who received no such instruction. Another study with cyclists showed that motivational self-talk not only reduced an athlete's perceived exertion, it also enhanced endurance performance. Demonstrating similar results, yet another study published in the International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology that included collegiate cross-country runners discovered that instruction in positive self-talk helped improve performance in a 1-mile time trial.
While the evidence is clear in lab situations, most triathletes have experienced the power of positive thinking in real world conditions. To be sure, in the same way negative thoughts can hamper performance, positive ones can bolster it. We chatted with a group of pros about what type of self-talk they rely on during competition. Their practices may help you during your next race.
Angela Naeth10-time Ironman 70.3 champion and 2014 Ironman Chattanooga champion 1 of 8
"Swim: I repeat 'rhythm' over and over again; Bike: 'I am strong' and 'rhythm'; and Run: 'faster!'"
"The key is to keep it simple and ultimately allow your mind to think of nothing. Just let your body do the work."
Cameron Dye2012 USAT Non-Olympic/ITU Athlete of the Year and 2013 Non-Drafting Athlete of the Year 2 of 8
"I have little technique cues that go along with the things that break down for me during a race that I try to remind myself of. For example, if I start to tie up on the run, I begin telling myself to relax my shoulders and open up my hips. Then if that doesn't get things going back in the right direction, I do a little Bobby Knight routine on myself and internally yell, 'Harden up!' focusing on the hard workouts I have done to get ready for that race."
Cait Snow2014 Ironman France runner-up, 2014 Ironman 70.3 Florida champion, Top American at 2013 Ironman World Championships 3 of 8
"During races I really try to stay in the moment and focus on what I can control right then: heart rate, cadence, body position. In the background, I like to think of positive words like, 'strength,' 'power,' and 'courage.'"
William Huffman2013 and 2014 U23 national champion and 2014 U23 Pan American champion 4 of 8
"I've found that you almost have to be willing to laugh at your thoughts during a race. At the most difficult times, it's common to seek an exit. So when my body is ready to quit, I like to respond with, 'Get outta your mind.' If you can poke fun at your own negative thoughts, you're less likely to be discouraged by them."
Lewis ElliotProfessional triathlete and author of 7 Weeks to a Triathlon 5 of 8
"For me, positive self-talk is race-specific. Before each race I usually think of something on the swim, bike and run that may be a challenge I need to overcome. Then, when needed, I use it. I memorize them during visualization the night before and morning of the race. They are generally short and to the point."
Magali Tisseyre11-time Ironman 70.3 champion 6 of 8
"Building a strong positive inner coach makes you bulletproof on race day. It's the ultimate advantage. There are several thoughts that I always come back to on race day. I remind myself to stay in the moment and I have strategies to keep my focus in the right place. I think 'relax' and 'tight core' during the swim. During the bike, 'smooth circles.' On the run, 'cadence' and 'light.'"
"I try to always come back to the mindset that makes me race the fastest: feeling like I am enjoying going as hard as I can. A simple expression I tell myself often to call myself back to that spirit is, 'Bring it!' This reminds me to have fun going hard."
Linsey Corbin2014 Ironman Austria champion and 2014 Ironman Los Cabos champion 7 of 8
"Often in training I practice how I will tackle the rough patches in a race. Focusing on things that I can control, from staying calm in the chaotic swim, to focusing on my cadence on the bike, to thinking of my breathing patterns when I am running. I also like to set small goals for myself, such as, 'Hang on five more minutes until the next aid station and then reevaluate.' You can do anything for five minutes, right? Usually after that five minutes, you are in a new mindset. I also like to picture the end result, which ultimately is the finish. Picturing yourself smiling and happy to have accomplished the task at hand is a great way to stay motivated during tough times. Lastly, I try to focus on a few positive thoughts that are simple to repeat, such as, 'You've got this,' 'Be a champion,' and 'Are you giving your best right here and right now?'"