What do you focus on when you are running?

posted in: Running | 0

I had a twelve year old client last weekend who wanted to perform better in her races. She had identified the problem and said ‘I want to stop looking round’.


We talked about the process of preparing for the race. Just before it her coach would say to her ‘now don’t think about anyone else, OK?’ Well all I would say to that is


Pink elephants!

Don't think about pink elephants!
Don’t think about pink elephants!

When I say ‘don’t think about pink elephants, what do you immediately think of? Pink elephants of course! Why? Because in order to process my instruction, you have to get an image of a pink elephant in your head so you know what it is you aren’t supposed to be thinking of. Yes, you’re right, by now you have already done what you were asked not to do and this is exactly what happened to my young runner.


As our conversation progressed and by my noticing her language pattern and appearance, where her eyes went (usually up and to the right) I could tell my client was quite visual. She processed visually, that’s how she learned about her world, by watching, noticing, looking, imagining.


I also noticed that other people’s opinions and behaviour was more important to her than her own. It mattered a lot what her parents thought and how her friends and fellow runners were doing. She derived her self-esteem by what others thought of her rather than from her own performance.


So basically her externally referenced and visual programming was running this pattern of looking back to see how others were doing.


Of course, physically we would know that the movement of turning back would slow you down as your shoulders now point in the wrong direction taking hips with them. This will add minutes to your time and could potentially lose you the race. Indeed this is exactly what it did.  Then of course she realized  what she’d done and felt annoyed with herself.


So what solution did we come up with?


She needed to stay visual so what I did first was an anchoring exercise. We spoke about what her well-formed outcome was and she named it as ‘I want to win’. We then anchored this to the knuckles on her right hand of which there are conveniently – four.  We then talked about how she could notice (visual external referencing) everyone she passed in the race, noticing whether they were male or female, what colour top they were wearing, what colour hair, or something about them. She was to count them as she passed them.


Then we ‘future paced’ by imaging she was in a race. She counted on her knuckles of her right hand ‘I want to win’ and then imagined she was now running with her feet running in a stationary situation. I asked her to tell me the colour of the person she was passing as she counted them and then the next person and so on.


In this way she now had a strategy that was still externally and visually referenced but was now reliant on her looking forwards rather than ‘not looking backwards’ or ‘not worrying about the others’. So it was positively expressed and supported by the well-formed outcome ‘I want to win’, which had been anchored. Her reward was to be seeing the smile on her Dad’s face so she held this in her mind as she also imagined seeing her name in the top 10 for the next race.


I can’t wait to see how she does!

Girl running in track

Feedback from Mum

“Thanks for seeing X last week. I’m not sure what you did with her, but she ran today and was so much more positive. There was  no negative talk in the run up to the race and she was just a different child!! She came tenth, which was fab as she is still a little under the weather. After last week, she was back in the  mix and just so much happier with herself.”