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Mind over matter – How expectations affect outcomes

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We are often told that in order to be successful when racing, we should employ several psychological techniques unique to sport and competition. These include such things as imagery and visualization, goal setting, repeating mantras, positive self-talk, establishing routines and many more.

The intended purpose of these techniques is to focus our attention to the task at hand and best prepare our body and mind for the upcoming challenge in order to be successful.

But what if you were told that conventional sport psychology may actually be working against you and inhibiting your chances of success.

A new line of thinking suggests we should expect the worst but hope for the best when approaching a race or tough workout. This may seem like a negative and pessimistic attitude to hold but it highlights a common mistake that is made, time and again, by new and veteran runners alike.

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Namely, we expect too much from ourselves and over-estimate our abilities. Then, when we fail to meet our expectations, we are ultimately disappointed.

The expectations we have of ourselves come from many places: recent training, past results, the course and conditions on race day. Setting realistic expectations and goals is therefore critical if we are to avoid being disappointed.

One way to avoid this is to lower our expectations. This obviously reduces our chances of failing to meet them. However, it also increases the risk that we take the easy way out and give less than our best.

The question then becomes, would you rather set a challenging goal, give it your all but fail to achieve it, or set an easier goal and only do what is needed to succeed?

Many would argue that those who choose the former are far more likely to be successful in the long run and will ultimately achieve their goals and expectations. Regardless of which attitude one chooses, it is also important to stress always being optimistic and hoping for the best. The more you try, and the harder you try, the more you are likely to be successful.

What this means for you? Running a race or completing a hard workout is supposed to be tough. We need to expect that from the start! Be realistic about your expectations. Define your own success. Don’t overvalue your abilities, but also don’t sell yourself short. Be realistic, but also optimistic.