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How to stop perfectionism from ruining your running goals

Don't let your need to be perfect prevent you from enjoying the sport or performing well

Even if they’re not perfectionists in their day-to-day lives, many runners become hyper-fixated on their goals to the point that it actually detracts from their performance and their enjoyment of the sport. Last week we told you to stop trying to be perfect all the time, and this week, we’re giving you the tools to do just that. If you’re struggling with perfectionism in your running life, read on for six tips to help you relax and take changes and setbacks in stride.

5 mistakes highly motivated runners make

Don’t have just one goal

Having multiple goals provides you with several opportunities to succeed, rather than just one. Many runners create one big outcome goal (like qualifying for the Boston Marathon or running under 50 minutes in the 10K), which creates a very high-pressure situation with no room for failure. This can cause a lot of stress, which could ultimately lead to the failure you were so afraid of.

Instead, try integrating smaller, process-driven goals into your training, like being consistent with your workouts, eating properly to fuel your training and getting enough regular sleep so you’re recovering properly from day to day. Setting these smaller goals will shift your focus from the outcome to the journey, help you enjoy the process more and make you more likely to achieve your outcome goal.

Adjust your goal if you have to

Setting big goals is great, but don’t be afraid to rework them if things don’t go according to plan. For example, if you get sidelined for a couple of weeks during training because of an injury or illness, you may not be able to snag that PB you were hoping for, but you can still run a good time. Yes, it’s disappointing to have to let go of a goal, but you’ll have another shot at it. Being mentally flexible to adjust when you have to will help you enjoy the sport more, rather than stress about it.

Use positive self-talk

You’ve probably heard coaches and athletes recommend creating a mantra to help you through rough patches in workouts and races, but who says a mantra is only helpful while you’re running? When you feel yourself panicking because things aren’t going exactly the way you planned, you can use those same affirmations to help you calm down and stay centered. Make sure your mantra is short and easy to repeat over and over again, and contains positive encouragement, for example, “you’re strong, you’ve got this,” or whatever makes you feel capable and empowered.

Focus on what you can control

In training and racing, a lot of what happens is outside of your control. There’s usually nothing you can do about bad weather, injuries or illnesses (to an extent) or what others around you do, so don’t stress yourself out worrying about it. For example, if you’re hoping for a new personal best in the half-marathon, but wake up on race day morning to high winds and heavy rain, it’s going to be tough to run your best race. Instead of being upset that you won’t achieve your goal, focus on what you can control — your mindset and your effort. No, it probably won’t be your fastest time, but you’re going to get out there and do your best under the circumstances and be proud of yourself that you did.

Visualize your past failures and re-write them

Perfectionists often have a strong fear of failure, and one bad workout or race can paralyze them the next time they toe the start line. To overcome this, visualize that “failure,” but then re-imagine the scenario with you succeeding instead. When you head out for your next workout or arrive at your next race, visualize that modified experience as a way to bolster your confidence.

The best running advice you’ll ever receive

Take some deep breaths

Some people need to be hyped-up before a race in order to perform at their best. Perfectionists, on the other hand, can benefit from the opposite. Since perfectionists already tend to be a bit more high-strung or jittery before a race, they should instead focus on taking a few deep breaths to calm themselves down. This will help them focus better and run a smart race.