A blog by runners. For runners.

How to deal with the mean voice in your head

don't let the negativity takeoverAs runners we are constantly critical of – and in competition with – ourselves, and it can easily lead to negative, unproductive self-talk.

Those demons in your head can take a toll on your motivation, and as a result, your performance – which can lead to you being more self-critical. Here are some tips for battling that little voice in your head when you’re feeling down or frustrated:

Call yourself by your name
You’ve probably heard the advice before to treat yourself like you would a friend – because we would never be as harsh on our friends as we tend to be on ourselves. But this is obviously not very natural, and as a result, can be easy to forget. A good hack is to talk to yourself by using your own name instead of “I”. In a study that placed participants in a highly stressful situation and instructed them to use one of these two kinds of self-talk, the people that used “I” were shown to be defeatist, panicked, and self-critical. On the other hand, people who used their own names were “more likely to give themselves support and advice, saying things like, ‘Ethan, you can do this.’ These people sounded more rational, and less emotional.” It’s a lot easier to trick yourself into thinking you’re talking to someone else when you use a name.

Remember your only competition is you
Runners don’t typically run to beat other people. Even in a race, the most enjoyable thing is often not beating others, but beating yourself. This is what makes running such a wonderful cultural group to be part of, but it is also what leads to that negative self-talk if we don’t perform as well as we would like. It’s good to remember that nobody cares if you ran a little bit slower today – except yourself. In fact, if you told somebody else your results, I bet they’d say “good for you for getting out there today!”, and not “you could have done that two minutes faster”. The good thing about setting your own standards is you can also lower them. Remember running is a practice, and not every run has to be a big win. Take smaller steps by making your running goals more achievable, and you’ll be much happier overall.

Practice meditation
Meditation is the practice of learning to be present in the moment. Even though it seems counterintuitive to spend time inside your own head when you’re battling with self-critical thoughts, meditation can help you switch off areas of the brain associated with wandering thoughts and anxiety. By meditating regularly, you can learn to focus on what you need, and filter out what you don’t need. This makes you more rational and more resilient. In fact, it has been shown that 12 minutes a day of meditation makes U.S. Marines more resilient in war zones. (Related Meditation for runners)

Get some sleep
There are many health issues associated with not getting enough sleep so it should come as no surprise that sleep deprivation can lead to heightened self-criticism. Just one night of disrupted sleep lowers the threshold for “stress perception”, which increases your odds of feeling overly sensitive, including to your own shortcomings. On the other hand, sleeping for 7 to 8 hours a night is linked to greater optimism and higher self-esteem.

Run with a newbie
This tip is perhaps not as noble as the others, but it works pretty damn well to give yourself a little ego boost: go for a run with someone who’s less experienced than you. Obviously, keep any and all smugness and self-satisfaction to yourself and be supportive on the outside – but notice how good it feels to be the expert – the one that tires less easily or is simply more comfortable in the movement.

Run with a pro
It can sometimes be surprisingly beneficial to run with somebody way out of your league – think an Ironman or Ultramarathon runner or anyone else you look up to or think you could never surpass. These people tend to be not only warm and supportive towards less experienced runners, but also extremely candid about their own challenges, struggles, and tips for overcoming self-doubt. And if nothing else, it’s very entertaining to run with them and listen to their stories. You can usually find them in your local running club or Meetup group.

Everyone struggles with self-doubt, and runners are no exception. But while it’s very normal, it should never be crippling to your training and self-esteem. So try to be a little bit kinder to yourself, and you will find it will improve both your running enjoyment and your performance.

Written by Varia Makagonova.