The power of positive thinking doesn’t only pertain to days you’re feeling down and need a little pick-me-up. Cultivating a strong mindset that automatically flips off your negative thoughts and powers up some optimistic vibes also plays an important role in physical performance—and positive mantras certainly help on race day.
“Your thoughts become your actions,” says Bonnie Marks, PsyD, senior psychologist at NYU Langone Health. “If you have positive thoughts, you can get past hurdles and stay strong. Negative thinking, on the other hand, can lead to an unwanted outcome.”
Think about your last long run or a tough strength set. Maybe you heard your mind whispering threats about not making it to the final mile or stopping you from eking out one last rep. Well, repeating positive mantras—sayings that help shush the pessimism—when these thoughts pop up can help you trample self-doubt and come out on top of your game.
Why You Need a Positive Mind and Positive Mantras
Our minds tend to default to negative, especially if we’re not focused on a win. “If we’re in doubt or fearful, we might have second thoughts about our abilities,” says Marks. “You might be running a marathon and thinking, ‘What am I doing here? Do I belong here? Everyone is faster than me.’ That’s the time you want to pull up a mantra and a positive belief because otherwise, those thoughts will limit you as an athlete.” Who wants their mind to hold them back from a personal record they’ve physically trained their butt off for it?
Research backs up this idea that self-talk can enhance sport performance. One meta-analysis from 2011 points out the payoffs of both motivational and instructional self-talk cues. It found that what words actually work for the athlete depends on that individual—so you do have to find a mantra that works for you. Another meta-analysis reinforced the benefits of self-talk, saying positive, motivational, and instructional sayings can all boost your athletic ability.
There’s also science that says mindfulness—or the practice of being in the moment and acknowledging negativity, but not letting it become the reality—can help you crush a race or other physical feat. One study on college football players found that mindful meditation helped improve players’ focus and made them better able to handle the emotional and cognitive demands of training. And yet another study revealed that mindful meditation helped injured athletes rehab and increased pain tolerance and body awareness. Using positive mantras are just another form of mindfulness.
6 Ways to Create Positives Mantras for Moments You Need Them Most
As the research says, you need your own mantra to pull from your back pocket whenever negative thoughts take over. Marks offers a few suggestions on how to find those perfect few words.
1. Search for options that suit you.
The Internet can give you some pretty solid options for positive mantras to consider, so start Googling and see if one you read strikes a chord. Apps like Insight Timer, Calm, and Headspace also offer mantras and meditations so you can work on building an empowering mindset whenever you have a free minute.
2. Keep it short and use action words.
You don’t want to memorize an entire paragraph to recite while you’re pushing through a tough obstacle (though, hey, it might work for some people!). Aim to find a saying that has just a few powerful words and make sure it focuses on the present. For example, “I am calm” or “I am strong” are better choices than “I am going to remain calm” or “I will be fast.”
3. Consider something instructional.
If uplifting messages like “I am strong” just don’t do it for you, try a mantra that offers a skill to work on. For instance, if you’re running, repeat “stand tall; stay light” or “pump your arms and use your core.”
4. Store a few extras as back-up.
Some athletes prefer to have different mantras to get them through difficult points of a race or workout. You might have a saying that helps you through a tough hill, another for a speedy sprint, and maybe even another for pushing you through an obstacle like the monkey bars. The more the merrier when it comes to mantras, as long as they work for you.
5. When in doubt, test a few tried-and-true sayings.
If you need somewhere to start or a series to test out during your next bout of physical activity, try one of these athlete-tested mantras: “You’re tougher than the rest,” “think strong; be strong; finish strong,” “one mile at a time,” “I am powerful,” or “I am strategic and strong.”
6. Practice repeating each word.
You want to naturally pull these words from your memory mid-competition, so make sure they’re accessible. That means repeating them to yourself during the day, even when you’re not working out and even when you’re not feeling negative or stressed. That way the words become a go-to power provider.