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Sport, Exercise Psychology prof: Tips for weekend athletes

Cindra Kamphoff

Sport, Exercise Psychology prof suggests tips for runners.

By Cindra Kamphoff, exercise psychology faculty member [published in The Free Press, Mankato, MN, 8/14/2011]

Cindra KamphoffThe past year has been one of my best years professionally, personally and athletically. I feel as if I am flourishing.

I’ve become a faster runner. I improved my time in last year’s Mankato Marathon by 14 minutes over my previous fastest marathon. Runner’s World, Shape and Women’s Running magazines asked me to contribute to articles.

I’ve met more new people than I could ever have expected. I’ve been happier in every aspect of my life.

I owe it all to a mental shift I made last summer.

I decided to practice what I preach and teach in my classes at Minnesota State Mankato and with my clients at The Runner’s Edge. I decided to fully integrate the principles of sport psychology into my daily life.

I worked to control my own inner critic and squashed my own self-criticism. Instead of telling myself, “There is no way I can run a faster time on a hilly marathon course,” I said, “Of course I can run a faster time. I will be ready for those hills both physically and mentally.” Then, I ran more hill workouts and started telling myself, “I love hills. These repeats are making me stronger. I am a good hill runner.”

I used forward thinking instead of backward thinking. I never reminded myself that my best marathon time was five years ago, before I had two kids. Instead, I dreamt of running strong during the race and the possibilities that existed. I thought big and dreamt big.

The science behind the power of this shift is clear. In her book “Positivity,” Barbara Fredrickson talks about the science of positive thoughts and emotions on performance. After years of research in her lab at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she arrived at what she calls “the positivity ratio.” This 3-to-1 ratio — three positive emotions to one negative emotion — is the point where we flourish. If this ratio is off balance, we can go into a downward spiral.

Think of the last time you performed — perhaps in an athletic event, during an interview, in a musical concert or during an important presentation. If you had negative thoughts or emotions about yourself or the situation, you likely did not perform up to your potential.

Let’s imagine a runner who may say “I am not ready for 26.2 miles. There is no way I can finish that race. I am not a runner.” This runner likely will not perform up to his or her potential.

Awareness is the first step of taking control of your thoughts to improve your performance. We must be aware of the “self-talk” in our heads. Then we can ask, “Is this thought helping me or not?” If it is not helping, we can change the thought.

The runner could say, “I am the most ready I will be for 26.2 miles. I will make the best of my race. I am a runner.”

Consider making a similar personal commitment to yourself. Squash that negative thinking and self-doubt. Work to have that 3-to-1 ratio. The consequences on your performance will be dramatic.

[Cindra Kamphoff, Ph.D., is an associate professor in Sport and Exercise Psychology at Minnesota State Mankato. She also operates The Runner’s Edge, a program designed to help athletes reach their potential. Her column will appear in The Free Press periodically. To contact her, send an email to]

For Cindra Kamphoff's complete column, see the print edition of Sunday's Free Press, or click on

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