New Year's Best advice for runners?
By: Amanda McCracken
New Year, new you, right? While we can't change at the strike of midnight, believing in the possibility of change is the first step to becoming the new you. A simple shift in how we see ourselves can manifest a cascade of positive changes for the New Year.
For runners, that may mean hoping to become faster, more disciplined, or healthier.Yet, to realize such shifts, and become that runner, psychologists say you have to consistently believe you already are that runner. It's not as easy as it sounds because many of us suffer from some degree of impostor syndrome—the self-destructive mindset that holds us back from our potential. Thinking we can't possibly be a faster runner, keeps us from ever actually speeding up.
For those who suffer from imposter syndrome, including runners and other athletes, one of the best ways to overcome feelings of inadequacies, is by using positive affirmations to realize the changes they desire.
Psychology explains that often people who suffer from severe impostor syndrome are, ironically, highly talented and capable individuals, not true impostors. Still, they attribute their success to luck, timing, or someone else's error. They most deeply fear being exposed as a phony and incompetent. Impostor syndrome can lead to anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and self-destructive behaviors like perfectionism and procrastination.
The Impostorism Scale, developed in 2000 by Duke University researchers, clarifies what this actually looks like. Individuals who take the survey see statements like, “In some situations I feel like a 'great pretender'; that is, I'm not as genuine as others think I am."
Elite runner Deanna Ardrey, 35, knows the impostor syndrome well. When she started training and competing in 2009, she'd only ever run recreationally. “I just ran. I didn't know anything about elite running. I didn't have pressures," she says. Self-doubt crept in when her performances started garnering national attention, a sponsorship, and a spot at the 2012 Olympic trials. She felt pressure to maintain her new identity as an elite runner—an identity in which she didn't fully believe.
Ardrey's doubt in herself as a runner increased at the same time her confidence shriveled in an emotionally abusive relationship. “I felt I had to be extraordinary to keep his love and attention," she says.
It's probably no coincidence that her troubled relationship intensified her self doubt since imposter syndrome is a lot like being in an emotionally abusive relationship with ourselves. Until we can move in a positive confident direction without the approval from others, our journey will never be our own. (Of course, you don't actually need the catalyst of an abusive partner to suffer from imposter syndrome.)
With the help of a knowledgeable coach and supportive friends, Ardrey managed to quiet the impostor voice in her head.
“When I learned how to take back control and regain confidence in who I am, it became my journey," she says.
She focused on her game plan and not comparing herself to others. By concentrating on sections of the 2018 Chicago marathon (not the entire 26.2 miles), she was able to push past the discomfort and self-doubt.
“I told myself, 'Make it to 6 miles,' then, 'Make it to 10 miles,' then..." Before she knew it, she was crossing the finish line in an Olympic Trials qualifying time of 2:39:44.
Noah Droddy is another elite runner who had to overcome impostor syndrome. Like Ardrey, Droddy began doubting himself as a runner after participating in the OlympicMarathon Trials.
"I had made it to the biggest stage in the US, but went on to finish last in the 2016Trials," says the 28-year-old. "I really questioned whether I had deserved to be there at all."
He used his fear of being discovered as an impostor as motivation to prove that he belonged on the starting line with the best in the country. Three months after the Trials, Droddy validated himself by finishing second at the US 10 Mile Championships, only three seconds behind the winner.
"Really my career has been cyclical in that way - achieving a new level and then fighting to prove to myself (and others) that I really belong there," he says. "Impostor syndrome can cripple your self confidence. So, you have to use the adversity as motivation to drive you forward, create new goals, and challenge yourself."
Positive affirmations are the essential ingredients to overriding the impostor voice. They are short, positive, personally-focused statements in the present tense that lead us in the direction of accomplishing big things. “I am a strong hill runner." “I feel prepared and full of life." Neuroscience proves that future-oriented positive self-affirmations (or imagining what you want to happen in the future) activate brain regions associated with self-insight. In short, you can trick your brain into believing you're already behaving like that person you want to become.
Sports Psychologist and author of 13 books, Jerry Lynch, has taught thousands of people how to use affirmations to “act as if" and reach their potential.
Lynch says people often recite affirmations like, “I'm too old to do that," or “I'm too fat,"or “I'm too slow." New Year's resolutions are a perfect example. By the middle ofJanuary people start using negative affirmations like, “I can never keep my goals," or “I don't have time for this."
“The central nervous system cannot differentiate between what's imagined and what's real," Lynch says. "So cue the nervous system to send you in a positive direction—one that will manifest the goal or feeling you desire."
Yet, affirmations can feel disingenuous. After all, how can you say, “I am the 2018 winner of XYZ race," if it hasn't happened? Lynch says, “Affirmations are self-direction, not self-deception."
They direct you to do all the little things it will take to accomplish the bigger goal. So focus on statements that describe small manageable and controllable goals. Don't focus on mistakes and don't promise yourself what you can't control.
“You can't control whether you win the race, but you can control whether you win the day," says Lynch, in reference to his forthcoming book of the same name, “Win theDay." When you focus on all the small accomplishments that you can control, you're more relaxed and perform better; accomplishing small daily tasks leads to reaching larger goals.
Winning the day requires the individual to write down affirmations and habitually read and say them out loud. Some affirmations might focus on a feeling, “I feel vibrant, healthy, and strong." Others might remind you of body mechanics, “I run smooth with relaxed shoulders." Or they could support commitment, “I am dedicated to my training plan and will not let weather deter me."
Lynch recommends reading affirmations when your mind is clear and quiet like he does after his morning meditation. Apps like Activacuity and Headspace help you dismantle negative self-talk.
The idea for Activacuity came to Terry Chiplin while he was using Headspace to meditate.
“Everything in our world had to be imagined before it existed. We create our own reality," says Chiplin, the creator and voice behind the app. Activacuity is like having your own sports psychologist visit your home before you run. It provides guided imagery sessions based on positive psychology.
“Listening to activacuity is like a vitamin for my running," says trail runner MelissaRoberts. "It relaxes me, it fortifies me, and it prepares me to run as my best self. It clears the mental cobwebs."
In this New Year begin directing yourself into the runner you want to become with personal positive affirmative statements. Write them down and read them every morning. If you don't imagine it, you can't become it.