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Trick Your Subconscious Mind Into Helping You Run Faster

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I stumbled across an interesting article on the power of the subconscious mind a while back.

Being a lifelong student of running, I couldn’t help but apply the incredible mental method described in the article directly to training and racing.  It fits amazingly well.

It starts with a very simple reorientation of how you think about your running goal, be it a personal best, finishing a race, or losing weight.   The result: you’ll find yourself actually accomplishing those things instead of being stuck just wanting them.

Focus on the having instead of the getting


All too often we focus on getting  something rather than having it.  If we want to harness the power of the subconscious mind, framing a goal in terms of “having” and “enjoying” turns out to be much more powerful than “wanting” or “getting”.

What’s so great about tapping into the subconscious?

Without the subconscious, every desire (or goal, in running parlance) takes conscious willpower to attain, which can be quite exhausting.  The conscious mind only controls about 3% of your mind-body’s processing power.  The other whopping 97% is reserved for subconscious or autonomic processes.  These include things like breathing, digesting, and regulating habits.  Crucially for us, there are a lot of automatic responses to the stress of exercise, like heart rate, breathing, body temperature regulation, and body awareness.

That’s where running comes in.  The subconscious mind-body connection is an incredibly potent force when it comes to pushing your body.  Capitalizing on the subconscious’ power during such a physically and mentally difficult task as running makes a lot of sense.

Getting your subconscious on board with your conscious goals makes the once tiring task of willing and wanting become totally automatic.  Almost like a habit.  Using the subconscious is the difference between trying to be something and instinctively being it.

That leads us to how you trick your subconscious into helping you run faster.

Trick your subconscious


Your subconscious works literally.  If you say “I want to run a personal best in the marathon” it focuses on making sure you want to run a personal best.  Not on getting or having a personal best.  This becomes discouraging and exhausting after a while.  If you want your subconscious on board with your desire, you need to say instead, “I have  run a personal best that I’m really proud of.”

Of course, your rational, conscious mind knows better.  You haven’t accomplished your goal of running a personal best in the marathon yet.  But the rational mind only controls 3% of your processing power!  The other 97%, handled by your subconscious, focuses on the idea that you apparently have run that fast.  Your mind and body get a sneak preview of all the emotions and positivity associated with actually accomplishing your goal.

Would you rather resort to willpower, staying in the good graces of your rational, conscious mind?  Or “lie” to your subconscious, giving it  license to imagine success and all the warm fuzzy feelings that come with it?  I pick the second option every time.

List what you’d do if you accomplished your goal

Man writing in a journal.

Here’s the trick: frame your goal in the future tense.  Use words like “I will be/do/have” this goal.  Make it all about fulfillment and not desire.  Not “I want” but “I am”.  Imagine that you’ve already accomplished your goal.  This is the impression you want to make on your subconscious.  Make it a detailed impression by envisioning all the good things that happen when you reach your running goal.

For example, change “I want to run a personal best in the marathon” to “I have a personal marathon best that I’m really proud of”

And now make a list of what having this goal actually looks like:

  • My friends would congratulate me on my new personal best.
  • I would see the clock while finishing and celebrate as I cross the finish line.
  • I would write my time on the back of my finisher’s medal and wear it around proudly.
  • I would really enjoy the rest period after the race, knowing I reached my goal.
  • I can’t wait to tell my running friends about the race.

Believe with certainty and take action


You’ve listed the outcomes and visualized the achievement of your running goal.  The next step in tricking your subconscious is actually taking actions as if you’d already achieved it.  Prepare for what life looks like after your goal is met.  In doing so, you further convince your subconscious that the attainment of your goal is really worthy of the work you put in towards it.  By preparing for success, you increase your chances of success because your subconscious gets on board.

For example, once you’ve changed a ‘want’ type goal like “I want to qualify for the Boston Marathon” to “I have qualified for the Boston Marathon”, any of the following would be super effective reinforcing actions:

  • Outlining my training for Boston ahead of time
  • Learning the course in preparation to run on it
  • Researching things to do in Boston during marathon weekend
  • Booking a hotel in Boston for the race

The Bottom Line


The worst case scenario: you don’t get a marathon personal best.  Or you don’t qualify for Boston.  Or you don’t lose those 10 pounds.  You might be disappointed, but you were going to be disappointed whether you went all in for your goal or not.  The feeling of failure doesn’t come from planning for success, but from wanting it.  The risk isn’t in going all in, but in the goal itself.  So that leaves you with an easy choice: think and take action under the assumption that you will and have achieved your goal!  Your more powerful subconscious mind will help motivate, guide, and reward you in training and racing toward  it.

My favorite time to practice this trick is during runs, when I’m feeling good and am excited about running.  I imagine what life would be like if my loftiest running goals were realized.  Daydream… it’s good for you!




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