Running Hypnosis: Getting Over A Perceived Running Failure

If you've been running for any length of time then the chances are that you've had those training runs or races where everything seems to just come together and you set a personal best, you perform well, you tackle a difficult course, you've felt accomplished or where you've enjoyed running successfully in some way. Who doesn't love that positive, good feeling that comes at the end of a good run? 

As I think back upon my running history, I can recall times where I've set a PB and felt good for it, times when I've made progress and felt accomplished and snapshots from other running events and races where I've performed to my best and where I've felt good as a result. As we run and train more we learn more about the best preparation, training and strategies that work for us. We can refine, amend and improve what we do and how we do it. 

But, of course, there are also those runs that we have all encountered where there are setbacks and challenges along the way. You fail to finish, you run badly, you don't meet your own goals and expectations. I think I've had my share of these, such as not finishing an ultra, struggling through a marathon, not pushing on in a 10km, feeling unwell, niggling something or where a run or race just hasn't gone to plan for some other reason.

When we encounter these setbacks and perceived failures it can be disappointing and demoralising. Often, after a time, we can shrug them off and get back on with it, hopefully with improved wisdom and learning to apply it in our running. Yet sometimes that perceived failure can rankle and stay with you. It can damage your belief in your capability and your confidence in your running. It can lead to doubt, anxiety, and worry about a repeat or about whether you can do it.  When negative thoughts and feelings creep in based upon a previous running performance, you want to be able to learn from it and move on from it in constructive and beneficial ways. 

hypnosis for running getting over running failure 

Self Belief And Running 

I don't know about your running journey but mine started pretty slowly. I started off doing a bit of training and completing a few 10ks and even a couple of half marathons. I wasn't until I successfully got a London Marathon place in the ballot that I started having to take things a bit more seriously. Running my first marathon meant having to train even when tired, following a plan, thinking about nutrition (a little) and generally drawing upon more determination and persistence than I'd needed before. 

As in other areas of life, as you run more you develop more belief in what you are capable of. Whether it's running further or faster, you start to realise that you can push yourself a bit and you build up successful training runs, gather more race medals and generally just start to believe in your running ability a bit more. You gain personal bests you are proud of, experience positive moments in races and you develop belief in your running ability and that you are capable of performing in future runs. 

When I first joined Ely Runners I would hang around somewhere near the back because I doubted my ability to run at the level of all those club runners. Yet over time I challenged myself more, pushed a bit harder, became (a little!) more competitive and found as a result that my times improved from where they had been. 

Self-efficacy is your belief in your capability to organise and execute the courses of action required to produce given attainments (Bandura, 1997). Your belief in your own ability has a huge impact upon your running performance. It's about your own judgment of what you can do with the skills and capabilities you have. Your self-efficacy influences your levels of motivation and persistence, and the goals you set for yourself.

In summary, there is clear evidence that there is a significant relationship between your levels of self-efficacy and your performance (Moritz, Feltz, Fahrbach and Mack, 2000). Someone with high self-efficacy levels will typically work harder, persist longer, and achieve at a higher level than someone who doubts their capabilities.

Self-efficacy can be enhanced through, for example, recalling past successful situations and imagining future mastery experiences. This means that hypnosis can be an effective technique for enhancing and maintaining self-efficacy and sports performance ( Barker, Jones and Greenlees, 2010, 2013).

As well as using hypnosis to support my own running endeavours, such as achieving personal bests and completing marathons, I've helped many athletes to develop their belief in their ability to achieve running goals. For some clients that has been about completing a 10k without stopping, for others it's been about increasing speed or covering a more challenging distance, and I've helped runners to draw upon all of their resilience, persistence, self-belief and determination to go and then complete an arduous ultra that they had been anxious about.

Whilst increasing your self-efficacy improves your running performance, here, we are looking at how you can enhance your self efficacy in your running to move on from a past perceived running failure. 

 

Getting Over A Perceived Running Failure

Recently I wrote about research that showed a method for helping you to strengthen your psychological resilience and lessen distress  through recalling memories of self-efficacy. 

I can well remember the thing that I consider to be my biggest running failure. A few years ago, having completed my first forty mile ultra on a challenging course, I went back to the same event, determined to improve my time. On a humid and warm summer's day, I started off in the race feeling good and ready to perform. I flew through the first twenty or so miles, feeling good and already calculating what my amazing finish time would be, only for the wheels to come well and truly off. Within a few more miles I was reduced to a slumped, barely walking heap of distress and despair. I was roasting in the heat and seemed unable to cool down at all, I felt too sick to drink or eat and every muscle started to hurt. At the thirty mile mark I dropped out of the race, too ill to continue, for my one and only 'did not finish'. 

I was gutted, disappointed and felt an abject failure. It had all gone wrong so quickly, I'd started too fast, not run to the conditions, failed to stay hydrated and hadn't adapted to perform to my best on the day. I was raising money for charity by running the ultra (which made me feel even more of a failure for dropping out) and I posted on social media about how I'd failed and let everyone down. I think it's fair to say I felt pretty sorry for myself for a time! And, as I rested afterwards and was able to eat and drink, and as I recovered, those nagging doubts came back about whether I really had been that bad, whether I could have just pushed on a bit more after a rest and whether I quit too soon. The pain and suffering at the time was soon forgotten and instead some sort of retrospective inquiry replaced it.

But of course I was able to take the learnings from it about preparing and hydrating and so forth. I was able to learn from the experience, even if a little tinge of fire burns away for a rematch on that course (I don't think the event exists anymore though). Instead of a sense of perceived failure, I was able to draw upon the other races I'd completed, the motivation and determination to push on and, as I've mentioned, hopefully with increased wisdom and knowledge from going through that challenge.

Yet many runners seem unable to move on from perceived running failures and it continues to impact on their current performance. That previous performance leads to self-criticism, self-doubt, beliefs, feelings and expectations about repeating the same mistake. I've known runners to compete well within their limits to avoid things going badly again, or to even avoid racing all together.   

This can be true in each and every sport. I've worked with runners, triathletes, cyclists, bodybuilders, footballers and others who have found that, as a result of a perceived failure, their current performance is less than they know they are truly capable of. Their belief and confidence suffers, and so does their performance.

There are many ways to enhance your self-efficacy and self confidence in running and other sports. Rather than being held back by something you consider to be a running failure, you want to be able to learn from it, to move on from any unwanted thoughts and feelings and to use this to boost your performances into the future.

Recalling specific memories demonstrating strength and self-efficacy, where you managed a situation successfully despite potential barriers, has been shown to help reduce mild to moderate distress from a personal negative memory (Paersch, 2021). Recalling self-efficacy episodes can help with reappraising negative memories and so help with recovery from stressful events. By drawing upon examples of your own self-efficacy, you can reassess a negative emotional memory and experience less distress from it.

Combining this with the research showing the benefits of enhanced self-efficacy, means you have the opportunity to learn and adapt from any so-called failures to enhance and improve your running performance (and in turn increase confidence and self-efficacy). 

 

Learn From Perceived Running Failures and Boost Self-Efficacy 

Here is a way to overcome a previous perceived running failure and to learn from it to enhance your running performance.

1. Think of a running event that did not go as you wanted and that you regard as a failure of some kind. The event may have some degree of emotion around it (such as annoyance, frustration, lowness) as well as negative thoughts (such as being harsh on yourself) associated with it. It may impact upon your current running and have elements that lower your self-belief in your running ability. 

Also, bring to mind a previous successful training run or race. You may have set a personal best, felt good as you ran, achieved a goal or it could be another time where you felt accomplished and performed well in a run.

2. Now, ensuring you are sitting somewhere quiet, take a deep breath and close your eyes. If you know self-hypnosis or meditation techniques you could incorporate these here. Start to extend your out breath and say the word 'relax' to yourself on every breath out. You could tense and relax each part of your body or tell yourself that each part of your body is relaxing. You could imagine a calm colour or sensation spreading through you or fill your mind with a relaxing sound. You could engage your imagination and imagine being in a remembered or created place of calmness, seeing the sights and hearing the sounds. Or you can draw upon and utilise any other ways that allow you to feel comfortable, calm and relaxed. Your aim here is just to feel as safe, calm and comfortable as you can right now.

3. As you relax, now bring to mind your successful run, a time when you achieved a personal best, ran well or were pleased with your running in some way. Recall it as vividly as you can and imagine being back in that moment now, like you are there running again, seeing what you saw, hearing what you heard and feeling the feelings of running well.

Notice the colours, shades of light and the details. Notice the sounds nearby and any further away and run through this run where you felt accomplished, you ran well, you felt accomplished or you succeeded in a goal. Run through it as vividly and with as much detail as you can.

As you run through this time, notice all the things that tell you that you are running well. Remind yourself of what you accomplished here, of how capable you are, and that you ran here successfully. There may be other times where you've run successfully that you can bring to mind here too.

4. As you imagine running successfully, notice the kind of things you do and experience when you run well. Be aware of how you hold your body, your movements, the kind of thoughts you think to yourself and the kind of emotions, sensations and feelings you experience. Notice and be aware of your belief in your running, your focus, motivation, persistence, determination and confidence as you run.  Imagine the positive feelings spreading through you as something that you are getting more and more used to. Give it a colour and spread it into every part of you, or a sound that resonates within you, and imagine amplifying and magnifying those feelings. 

5. With those feelings of confidence and capability, now, bring to mind the run that didn't go as you wanted and that you regarded as a failure of some kind. Bring that time to mind and start to think back upon it. Observe and consider it inside your mind, like you are watching yourself back then. Notice what happened, what you did and the things that led to this run not going how you wanted it to.   

As you think back, observe and consider this past running experience, start to tell yourself that you are now gaining perspective upon it and learning from it. Imagine now taking any old unwanted thoughts and feelings and reflecting upon them wisely and intelligently, to learn from what happened in a way that will benefit your running performances in the future. Maybe there are changes you can make to your training and preparation, to your nutrition and hydration, to manage your thoughts and emotions, to your racing strategy and mindset and really notice and think about what you can learn from that previous experience.

As you review that run and what you have learnt and developed from it, think, know and trust that you have benefited from that experience, that you are developing your sense of knowledge, insight, confidence and belief in your own running capability. 

6.  Having spent some time thinking about how that run has helped you to grow and develop as a runner, start to think about how you will apply what you have learnt into your running to enhance your performance. Maybe there are changes you will make in what you do and how you do it, in your mindset and attitude, in your belief in yourself and your ability to overcome challenges and move forward. Really think about how you'll apply the things you have been thinking about here into your running to benefit you. Imagine being at a future running event, performing well, with self-belief and confidence. Imagine thinking the kind of thoughts, feeling the feelings and taking the actions that mean running well, with a sense of belief and conviction.

7.  Then, when you are ready, and to bring this process to an end, take a deep breath, count up from 1 up to 3 inside your mind and then open your eyes and reorient yourself to your surroundings.

If you don't have a running 'failure' to think back upon then cutting that step out, recalling a successful run and imagining performing well in the future, can really support your running confidence and self-belief.

There are so many ways that hypnosis can help you to boost your running self-efficacy and self-confidence and to improve your running performance that I'm sure I'll be returning to this subject sometime soon. Until then, do make use of your past successes to enhance your belief in your running ability now and build those psychological skills to improve your running performance now. 

 

To your running success,

Dan Regan

Online Skype and Zoom Hypnotherapy  

Face-to-face hypnotherapy in Ely & Newmarket

 

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References:

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: Freeman

Barker, J., Jones, M. and Greenlees, I., 2010. Assessing the immediate and maintained effects of hypnosis on self-efficacy and soccer wall-volley performance. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology32(2), pp.243-252.

Barker, J.B., Jones, M.V. and Greenlees, I., 2013. Using hypnosis to enhance self-efficacy in sport performers. Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, 7(3), pp.228-247.

Moritz, S.E., Feltz, D.L., Fahrbach, K.R. and Mack, D.E., 2000. The relation of self-efficacy measures to sport performance: A meta-analytic review. Research quarterly for exercise and sport71(3), pp.280-294.

Paersch, C., Schulz, A., Wilhelm, F.H., Brown, A.D. and Kleim, B., 2021. Recalling autobiographical self-efficacy episodes boosts reappraisal-effects on negative emotional memories. Emotion.