If there’s one major lesson I’ve learned after almost four years of collegiate racing, its how strong of an affect attitude can have on performance. Back in middle and high school when I was a lot less experienced in racing, I would go through cycles of good race, bad race, good race, bad race… and I started convincing myself that if I ran really well it meant I was less likely to run well the next time. It was illogical, but it kept happening, and little did I know I was actually the one making it happen. As soon as I finished a great race I would experience all of the usual excitement and hype, but immediately following all of that I would begin to wonder, “Now how can I top this?”
I see this same kind of thinking occur in all kinds of runners, not just beginners, but even elites. It’s the price you pay when you do well…now you’ve got to do even BETTER. But in the last few years, I’ve begun to learn how detrimental it can be to think this way. You cannot take something positive, (running a PR) and turn it into something negative (now I have more pressure and might cave). Instead, to be successful in this sport, and really anything in life, I’ve learned there’s nothing more valuable than maintaining a positive attitude at ALL times.
On my run this morning I was really focusing on having a positive attitude and what I can be grateful for on this day. I was thanking God for all the things he has blessed me with; a loving-caring family, true friends, good health, the ability to run well, and not just blessing me with the opportunity to race both the mile and 3000m at Nationals this week, but the opportunity to get up and run this very morning without pain, rain, or cold weather like the other days. See, it doesn’t always have to be some great giant blessing like a berth to NCAAs; just getting to enjoy a morning run in beautiful weather or being able to listen to good music on my ipod are the little things that make me grateful I get to go out there and do this, while just as easily I could be one those girls who hasn’t been able to run for months due to injury. Then I started realizing how blessed I am, and had to ask myself, “If all of the sudden these things were taken away from me, could I still keep a positive outlook?” It’s hard to answer that kind of thing honestly, but I hope my answer would be yes. As I was running today I felt God speak to me something like this: Having a positive attitude should not be the result of apparent blessings, but a constant, un-alterable mindset that YOU control, and the external factors of your life should not determine how positive you choose to live. A true, positive outlook on life means that you are able to rejoice no matter what your circumstances, whether life is grand or you feel lost in the darkness. A positive attitude is the one thing you can make sure always remains. And therefore, the best place to go if you’re struggling to achieve an everlasting positive attitude is to God. After all, God’s love for us is the one thing that always remains, whether we chose it or not.
It might not seem fair, but everyone struggles with keeping a positive attitude at some point or another. Some people may seem on the outside as if they have everything made for them, but sometimes the one thing they’re actually missing is a positive attitude. Happiness cannot be bought, it cannot be gained, and it cannot be faked. Happiness is a choice of acceptance. It’s accepting the circumstances you face, but more importantly, accepting God’s love. After all, God is the creator of happiness and his love is the only true source of happiness.
So back to my point about the power of a positive attitude. If God is the all-powerful one, and is the source of all love and true-happiness; then choosing to live a life of positive thinking means you will have a lot of power on your side. Even if you may not consider yourself a Christian, you cannot deny the power of positive thinking. When I look back at some of my best races, I can distinctly remember having a positive approach to those races. I was excited, happy, and ready to take on a challenge. However, some of my worst races have come during times when I let the slightest bit of doubt, fear, or negativity creep into my mind. Then of course, there are some races I look back at where I thought I had the most positive approach, and yet something unexpected like a side-stitch hit me out of nowhere and everything fell apart. But the important thing about those races is that over the years I learned to only allow myself a few hours or a day at most to be upset over them and then it was time to put a smile on and more on. All too often when I ask friends the question, “Hey how’d your race go?” and I hear responses like, “Awful,” “The worst I ever ran,” or “It sucked.” Wow, talk about a negative outlook!
Obviously if these thoughts are in your head a few minutes after the finish, that’s only normal, after all, we runners are a highly competitive breed and months of hard work to only run 30 seconds slower than our last race is certainly a reason enough to be upset. However, if you allow these negative thoughts to remain until you’re next workout then you start to develop an ugly snowball-effect that can quickly roll into a whole season of sub-par performances. The same thing goes when I talk to other runners before their races. I hear a lot of people say things like, “I’m not ready,” or “I’m too nervous.” Well guess what; you are what you tell yourself. Sports Psychologists will tell you that there is strong correlation between athletes who use positive self-talk and those who meet their goals. The key here is believing in this self talk. You have to really convince yourself you CAN before you WILL.
Believing in yourself takes faith; not just that you can do well, but faith in your coach, training, fitness, and race-plan. When you find yourself in a place when one of these things is hard to trust (for example: having difficulty keeping faith in your fitness when you know you aren’t hitting your splits in your workouts) or (when someone makes an unexpected move and your race-plan has to be thrown out,) these are the moments when the most important level of faith comes into play; Faith in Christ.
Its hard when things aren’t going as we wish to keep faith, but these are the very moments when we need it most. God always has a plan for every moment of our lives, unfortunately we just cannot see it all laid out at once. True faith means we are happy with where God has us right now. True faith means we can live life with a positive attitude no matter where we go or what we do.
In Philippians 4:12 Paul says, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”
What is this secret he has discovered? What is Paul’s source of an unending positive attitude? The answer comes from his next line in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.” Therefore, God is the answer of how to live with an unending positive attitude. Only by focusing our faith on him can we find true happiness in all circumstances. The reason is, that God gives us the strength to fulfill his plan for us, as long as we give him even the slightest fraction of our faith.
And so my goal for this next week and beyond is to hold tight to a positive attitude. To remember that God’s love remains, regardless of what circumstances my life brings, and therefore there is never a reason to stop rejoicing, praising and thanking Him, and living a life full of happiness.