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How To Combat Negative Self-Talk

Five ways to approach common psychological pitfalls.

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“An athlete’s view of struggles, challenges, setbacks and adversity has a lot to do with performance outcomes,” says Karen Quigley of True Form Coaching. As a sport psychology consultant, Quigley works with athletes to thwart the negative self-talk that can derail training and racing performance. Here she offers ways to approach common psychological pitfalls.

I hate riding in the wind.

Don’t make yourself a victim. External factors—choppy waves on the swim, wind on the bike or a hot run—are not out to personally bully you. What’s more, you’re not the only one suffering out there. All racers are at a disadvantage in poor conditions, but you can get a leg up on the competition with the right mindset.
Say: “The wind bothers my competitors more than it bothers me.”

RELATED: Julie Dibens’ Top Tips For Biking In The Wind

I suck at hills. It’s going to take me forever to get to the top.

Put-downs do not usually generate motivation. Rather, they perpetuate the problem by shining a spotlight on the issue. The longer you focus on the problem, the more time, energy and effort you waste getting back into the race.
Say: “Relentless forward progress—I can do it!” or “It’s just one mile. I can do anything for one mile.”

RELATED: Run For the Hills And Become A Better Runner

That was a crappy workout.

Bad days happen. Unless you have a time machine, you can’t do anything about it. Make a note of what happened (good and bad) and what could have been done differently, then turn your focus on applying the lessons learned to the next workout.
Say: “I get stronger each day I’m in the pool—even the bad days.” Or “I will remember to eat before my workouts from now on.”

RELATED: How To Avoid Negative Thinking On The Swim

I can’t run on trails.

“Many triathletes I work with hold onto self-limiting beliefs,” Quigley says. “I see a lot of harsh labels—lazy, sloppy—and it often keeps triathletes from working on their weaknesses.” People who are “not good at open-water swimming,” for example, avoid that element of training when that’s exactly what they should be doing in order to get better.
Say: “Running on trails gives me an opportunity to build strength and practice better form.”

RELATED: Lesley Paterson’s 12 Trail Running Tips

I’ll never be as fast as…

“The problem with comparison is that it’s never apples to apples,” Quigley says. “Even if you’re in the same age group and have similar physical proportions, do you have the same genetics? Do you have the same life circumstances? Do you get the exact amount of sleep each night or fuel your body the same way? Likely not.”
Say: “I have improved so much from where I was a year ago. I will work to continue my improvement.”

RELATED: Sports Psychology Tips For Triathletes