“Learning the mind is as important as understanding the body” (Usain Bolt, World record holder 100m, 200m. Olympic and World Champion gold medallist)
An important step towards becoming a better athlete is increasing self-awareness. Being aware of your thoughts prior to, and during performance can help you to understand the mindset that works for you.
One way of increasing self-awareness is through self-reflection. Reflecting on previous performances, and especially the mindset that you took with you into that race or training session, can provide you with a clear insight into how your thinking affects your performance. An honest reflection on events can help you to identify thoughts that are helpful as well as the kind of thinking that is counterproductive to your running. Once you are aware of these thoughts, it is only then that you can do something about them.
However, it is important to understand that reflection is much more than just mulling over a race or a training session and feeling bad about how you performed. Reflection involves actively thinking about not only what happened, but also why it happened and what you can do differently next time round to change the outcome.
When we ask ourselves why (why we underperformed, why we were so anxious, why we lost focus) this helps us to translate our experience into learning. Without reflection, our experiences do not automatically lead to better outcomes next time round.
Taking just 5 minutes each day to reflect can help you to take small but cumulative steps in controlling how you think. If you do not do this in training, how can you expect to be able to gain control of your mind when under the pressure of competition?
Think about it…
A useful starting point to increase self-awareness is taking time to reflect on what you were thinking and feeling during times when you have run well and times when you have run poorly – your successful and unsuccessful performances. By doing this it helps to make your thoughts more visible to you. Being more aware of how you think, gives you the ability to choose more effective thought processes in the future.
To reflect, all you need is a piece of paper (or better still your training diary), a pen, and a quiet five minutes. Taking the time to reflect could make all the difference to your performance. If you do complete the exercise below, I hope it will help to convince you that it might be worth it to invest a little more time thinking about how you are thinking.
|Times when I ran well. My successful performances.
|What I was thinking and how I was feeling before, and during, my successful performances|
|Times when I ran poorly. My unsuccessful performances||What I was thinking and how I was feeling before, and during, my unsuccessful performances|
Did you know?
Athletes competing at Olympic, Paralympic and World Championship level have been found to use self-reflection to maximise learning and performance opportunities and to increase self-awareness of their strengths and limitations*. Like these champion athletes, by engaging in self-reflection you can become more proficient at problem-solving and seeking out potential solutions to help you to overcome challenges and achieve success.
*Burns, L., Weissensteiner, J.R, and Cohen, M (2019). Lifestyles and mindsets of Olympic, Paralympic and world champions: is an integrated approach the key to elite performance? British Journal of Sports Medicine; 53, pp818–824.