The common wisdom is to use positive mantras and affirmations when things are tough. To use positive thoughts to keep you going when you begin to struggle. To use positive energy to psych yourself up and keep going.
And in many cases, I agree.
But I also think there is a place in your running mindset toolbox for swearing and sorta positive affirmations too.
Note: As I understand it, ‘mantra’ and ‘affirmation’ have different definitions and historical and religious contexts. For this post, however, I am using the terms colloquially and interchangeably to mean a word or phrase repeated to yourself for focus or motivation.
The Power Of A Positive Mantra
A few recent studies have left me thinking our brains aren’t very smart.
New York Magazine wrote about one of these studies and discussed how your brain can’t tell the difference between a fact and a false statement you repeat to yourself.
Also, talking to yourself can have the same impact as if someone else is talking to you. Apparently, for this to work, you actually need to speak to yourself out loud – auditory commands are better controllers of behavior than written or internal ones (again, citing the New York Magazine article.)
All that to say, having a few positive affirmations or mantras should be a go-to in your running mindset toolkit.
- You got this
- One step at a time
- Light as a feather
- Stay strong
Millions more can be found online if you are looking for inspiration.
When you begin to struggle, pull out your positive mantra of choice and repeat it to yourself (out loud) as many times as you need to.
That will get you through nearly every struggle.
Me vs. Positive Mantras
I can sometimes struggle with positive mantras and affirmations.
I know they are good for me. I know their benefits. I have several go-to (positive) mantras that work a great majority of the time.
But there are times, usually a long way into a long run, when those mantras can just feel so relentlessly positive.
Sometimes on a run, I need to acknowledge that I am struggling and wallow in my misery.
Especially if I’m in the middle of nowhere on a trail run and quitting isn’t a realistic option, I just want to dwell on how horrible I’m feeling or how terrible the course is.
In that moment (for me), reciting a chirpily positive mantra isn’t going to help, no matter how well-meaning it is.
The Power of Swearing
Scientists aren’t sure why this is. Some think it’s catharsis, others think it’s good ol’ fashioned distraction.
I was very happy to read this because it scientifically validated my habit of swearing under my breath while running up a seemingly endless hill.
The scientists may not know why it works, but I can attest it does, in fact, work.
Sorta Positive Affirmations
My other go-to when I need to push through a rough patch, but when positive mantras are just too Pollyanna, are what I call sorta positive affirmations.
My favorite sorta positive affirmation:
It can never always get worse
Sorta positive affirmations are a blend of optimism and pessimism. ‘It can never always get worse’ (which I first came across in a Trail Runner Magazine article), blends good and bad in a way that perfectly suits my mindset when I’m out wallowing in a long, hard, seemingly endless run.
So often, the uphills seem endless, the course appears to always be getting harder and harder.
But a hill can never always be uphill. The course can never always get tougher.
This sorta positive affirmation lets me wallow a little in the bad but also forces me to acknowledge that it isn’t always going to be bad.
Another sorta positive affirmation in this vein is from the movie The Crow:
It can’t rain all the time
So What To Do?
Be positive? Negative? Sorta-Positive? Swear up a blue streak?
Do whatever works for you.
Your mantras and affirmations should be whatever keeps you moving forward. There is nothing saying it needs to be all sunshine and lollipops.
Try them all and see what works.
If you are always inspired by totally positive and uplifting affirmations, may you never think a negative thought again.
If swearing keeps you moving. Go for it. (but pro tip: if you’ll be swearing out loud, pay attention to your surroundings- it can be distressing or potentially offensive if you let rip a string of expletives mid-run with others are nearby).
Or, do what I do and have a tool belt of options to draw from. A little from column A, and a little from column B.
A few positive uplifting mantras, a few sorta positive affirmations when you need to wallow a bit, and a back pocket full of expletives to pull out when things get really rough.
Do you have any favorite mantra (positive or otherwise)?