By Richard Ferguson, Ph.D. - Positive Psychology is currently one of the hottest areas of study by psychologists. Why are some people positive thinkers and other more negative in their outlooks? None of us were born being positive or negative thinkers. We have all learned to think in a positive or negative manner through varied life and socialization experiences.  The word “learn” is the key here! We can all learn to become more positive in how we approach our running and how we approach life in general.

Life has its ups and downs, ongoing challenges and obstacles that must be overcome. We can use these challenges as an excuse for not trying or even as an excuse for failing, or we can look at challenges as an opportunity to grow and become successful. Runners who perceive challenges as a positive tend to find a way to turn the challenges into enhanced motivation to reach their goals. They strive to meet the challenges and continue on toward reaching their long-term running goals.

We all need to strive to perceive challenging situations that confront us in running in a manner that will allow us the greatest opportunity to be successful and reach our potential. When challenging situations present themselves, we should view the situations as ones in which we can be successful and not look at them from the very beginning as an “I can’t do that” opportunity. We should all view every event as an opportunity to excel and give our best effort, not as an opportunity for failure.

All of this is not to say that failures and disappointments will never occur. Being more positive simply means having patience and being persistent when challenges do present themselves. Even when failure does occur, positive runners realistically evaluate their performance and use the failure as an opportunity to grow and find ways to improve their running. You could say that it forces us to leave our “comfort zone”.

All of us have felt frustration from time to time with our running, whether it’s an injury or less than expected performance. A good way to remain positive in these situations is to talk to runners who have gone through the same types of challenges in their running. Find out how they met the challenge and overcame it. This is what the famous psychologist, Albert Bandura termed participatory modeling.  Also, take pride in the fact that we are indeed involved in a challenging sport like running. It’s the discipline, work ethic and dedication that helps us achieve in running and these talents should never be forgotten, in running or in life. The constant striving to be better and meet challenges is what makes running exciting. Don’t allow setbacks to turn into long-term frustration or excuses for failure. Use setbacks as an opportunity to increase motivation and meet a new challenge. Again, keep that positive focus! Think about specific instances where running challenges have been met and overcome. We have all faced challenges and overcome them. Be Positive!

Certainly, everything in running is not “fair”. An injury is not fair, someone who never trains, yet runs fast races is not fair, nor is training for months and then having a poor performance. Being positive means not allowing such events to get us down. Positive runners realize everything is not going to be “fair” in their running, but they do place great value on their ability to remain positive in the face of challenge. They understand that being positive can enhance dedication and discipline and can help them return from injury, run better than some more physically gifted runners and be able to face any challenge and have confidence in their ability to overcome the challenge they face. 

Being positive also means being able to delay gratification, or in other words, having the ability to set and strive for goals which may only be reached months or years down the road. When setbacks do come on the road to a long-term goal, positive runners understand that the setbacks are only a temporary thing and above all, they learn from their failures so as to decrease the likelihood of the same type of setback occurring in the future. 

Viewing weaknesses in a positive manner is also an invaluable characteristic for runners. If we can honestly evaluate ourselves and what weaknesses we have, we can then work to improve them. For example, if we know we are poor hill runners, yet refuse to face the fact, then our hill running ability will never improve. However, if we can honestly look at our weaknesses and design our training to improve them, then we will certainly become better runners. So admitting weakness is not a negative, it’s really a positive, for its only after identifying weakness can we improve upon the weakness.

Positive runners also view anxiety as a positive. They understand that nervousness is the body’s signal that it is getting prepared for physical action. Anxiety helps positive runners instead of debilitating them. The butterflies in the stomach, sweaty palms and fine muscle tremors are signals that we’re “ready to rock”.

Above all, being positive means taking credit for success. Too many runners take blame when they fail, yet don’t take credit when they have success. Learn to take pride in improvement and goal attainment. Feel good about successes and don’t even dare think that the reason for successful performance is due to luck or a lack of challenge. When we train hard we are truly worthy of success.

Keep in mind that talent comes in both physical and psychological forms. By working to develop a more positive perspective in running, we will soon realize that being positive is a very valuable talent that can enhance our running from both a personal enjoyment and personal performance standpoint. Learning to be more positive, even in times of challenge, can help all of us get the MOST out of ourselves in running and in life.


Dr. Ferguson is Chair of the Physical Education, Wellness and Sports Science Department at Averett University and is an AASP Certified Sport Psychology Consultant.  He may be reached via e-mail at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.   

Read more of Dr. Ferguson article on:  www.runohio.com  

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Confidence: It’s Your Choice -   http://runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/60-confidence-it-s-your-choice   

What Is Mental Toughness? -   http://runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/90-what-is-mental-toughness