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Mind Games - The Power of Positive Thinking


Posted by Kevin M of Rundamentalists under General on 1 October 2013 at 11:00 PM

The four minute mile is the most famous example of a purely mental barrier. Athletes for generations strived and failed to achieve the ultimate goal - indeed it was widely considered to be physically impossible.

However, as soon as Roger Bannister proved it could be done on May 6th 1954 a flood of runners who now knew it was possible emulated his feat. Steve Scott achieved ‘the impossible’ over 100 times during his career and in 1994, Eamonn Coghlan became the first man over the age of 40 to run a sub-four minute mile.

Roger Bannister 4 minute mile

Auto industry innovations are tested first in the areas of F1 and Nascar before finding their way into mass market vehicles. Similarly, elite sportspeople will test the latest gear, equipment and nutrition products before they appear in sports stores for mere mortals. Given that we know that every pro-sportsperson or team works on their mental game and there is resounding evidence that it works….why are we so reluctant to embrace sports psychology?

Mental ToughnessJust as there is a wide variety of opinions on physical training there are many expert sports psychologists and mental toughness coaches with a language (some impolitely call it psycho-babble) that can intimidate the runner who just wants to know: “How to run faster?”

Our heads are full of debates about: long runs, intervals, tempo, hill repeats, strides, hydration, nutrition, pace strategy, heart rate monitors, recovery regimes, cross-training, minimalist shoes and so on (note cyclists and triathletes have even more information to decipher!) Can we now cope with: positive self-talk, visualization, resilience, relaxation, goal setting, performance rituals, affirmation?

I have only recently discovered the Tribesports concept and given its focus is primarily individual sports it seems to play an important role in creating a support network: my ‘Tribe’. Irrespective of: age, gender, race, social class, profession; members are united by the passion for a single pursuit. Your Tribe will probably understand your sporting highs and lows more than family members or friends. They will simply ‘get you’.

“To describe the agony of a marathon to someone who’s never run one…is like trying to explain colour to someone who was born blind” - Jerome Drayton (1977 Boston Marathon winner and Olympian)

Glass Half Full

Goal setting has a key role to play in mental preparation for sport and most experts seem to agree that for goals to become real you need to: say them out loud, write them down and ‘go public’. The Tribesports Challenges fulfill these criteria and provide a sense of accountability to the tribe and the power of shared accomplishment.

One mental technique that appears missing from many of the Challenges is: positive self-talk.

This is simply framing your words from a more ‘glass-full’ viewpoint, for example many runners start at top speed in races and run out of steam.

Negative self-talk would be to say: “Don’t start too quickly”….. Positive: “Start at a steady pace and overtake your competitors in the final mile”.

Most of the nutrition related Challenges appear negative: 30 days without chocolate, 4 weeks with no soda drinks, 365 days no alcohol. Our minds are typically tuned to resent being told what we can’t do or restrictions. The reaction is therefore to naturally rebel and sabotage. Changing the style to: “enjoy five portions of healthy, fresh fruit every day” or ”feel invigorated by drinking more water”…will typically be more successful.

RundamentalistIf you are interested in learning more, visit to help translate sports psychology into the language of the enthusiastic amateur.

I will be acting as a ‘Lab Rat’ for a variety of mental techniques and also interview fellow sportspeople and experts on their experiences.

How has changing your mental approach helped you complete a Challenge? Share your comments below!

  • Encourage

    encouraged this.



    Love it Kevin, the power of reshaping thought patterns to be more positive. I always try to do this when I write reports and give feedback to students (as a teacher). Rather than focus on what they have done incorrectly, praise what they have done well, and then point out areas where they can make improvements, again in an encouraging, positive way. Often it is simply flipping the idea, as you point out in the nutrition type challenges. Another good example is 'Run steadily for 5km at a pace you can sustain', rather than Run 5km without walking

    Karin S encouraged this.


    Just found another challenge in the news feed Don't get burnt, or "protect your skin with sunscreen and appropriate clothing..."


    Personally, I am about to embark on my first marathon, which previously I would have thought impossible. My aim is to finish the marathon still running, so the focus has shifted from avoiding walking or worrying about time, to visualizing still running at a comfortable pace at 42k.

    encouraged this.


    Tried the alphbetical countries on the website during bridging, certainly helped.

    Jane H encouraged this.


    Admitedly not a marathon, but oh so boring.

    Jane H encouraged this.


    @barryy has suggested counting to 300 if/when I hit the wall, that way I might be able to push through another kilometer

    Karin S and Barry Y encouraged this.


    Mind set and positivity is so important when taking on a physically tough Challenge - I find if I think "don't stop" when I'm running I will always end up dropping to a walk whereas if I think "keep running" I can hit my target - simple thing but works every time!

    encouraged this.


    yes! Everything is mental. I used to look at rugby players, sprinters and other professional athletes and long for their physiques. I didn't think I could ever look or perform like that. Boy was I wrong :)

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