A Positive Spin on Negative Thinking, by Phoebe Wright


This is Phoebe Wright's second weekly blog for us. We like her approach to training, running and living. We think you will enjoy this insightful blog.

Wright_Phoebe-PreC15.jpgPhoebe Wright, Pre 2015, photo by PhotoRun.net

A Positive Spin on Negative Thinking

Last week I was jumping in a workout with the men. Why? Because I am a hoss and can handle man's paces. Actually, that's only 30% true. It turns out men's 1500m pace is women's 800m pace. So I did 3/10ths of the men's 10x400m workout.

This was a key workout for both me and the men. I was excited to have company. I looked up to Dorian Ulrey for a bit of encouragement. His encouragement? "I feel like shit today. I might not even be able to handle 60 second quarter pace."

Which I immediately responded, "Uh. Dorian. Get your negative attitude out of my workout! Also. I need you to be on because I planned on not thinking today and just following you. So please run 58s!"

Dorian then shared a nugget of advice, "Phoebe, haven't you heard of The Power of Negative Thinking? You think you'll feel like shit, and then you are pleasantly surprised when you don't feel that bad!"

This immediately made both of us laugh. Even though this advice was mostly a joke, there is some truth to it. There is something really encouraging when the workout goes better than expected. Likewise, there is something discouraging when the workout goes worse than expected. Therefore, if you expect the worst, it is impossible to be discouraged. It is a brilliant defense mechanism to eliminate the pressure of expectations.

Expectations in general are THE WORST for a runner. They are a source of anxiety. They shift focus from the process to the result. And unfortunately, you cannot achieve a result without going through the process first. If you are worrying about 10 minutes from now, you most certainly are not in the moment. In hard workouts, it is crucial to remain in the moment. In a way, Dorian's method is so smart. It makes the expectation so manageable that it is not a source of pressure. It allows him to stay in the moment and not get distracted by the idea of failure. In fact! It makes failure virtually impossible all together.

The Power Of Negative Thinking is essentially a safety net. Unfortunately, being the best involves a little bit of risk taking. To be the best, you have to be confident and courageous. Hard workouts are a place to be risky and try to push limits and hopefully derive a little confidence by going over the edge. Hard workouts are supposed to a place where you can test your limits without the pressure of, say, 20,000 spectators and an Olympic berth riding on the performance. What is wild is, sometimes, the amount of internal pressure runners put on themselves is even greater than the external pressure of racing. That is why hard workouts sometimes have more pressure than big races, hence why we runners develop coping mechanisms like "The Power of Negative Thinking." The problem is "The Power of Negative Thinking", is, well, negative. It is hard to derive confidence and be risky in workouts with that pessimistic outlook.

Dorian is close to a brilliant idea. He sees the power in low expectations. He sees the freedom it provides. If he just has no expectations at all, he'd really be on to something. He'd eliminate pressure without compromising confidence.

Now how to eliminate expectations? I'll let you know how to do that when I figure it out myself!

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