Male Runner Sitting On Bridge Reflecting On Mental Blocks And Mindset

Three Mental Blocks That Might Be Impacting Your Performance

BY Phil White

Learn how to identify and address these three common thinking errors for better wellbeing and performance.

Even if you’ve got a regular mental training practice, your mind can easily start to play tricks on you. As such, you could have thoughts that impact how you see your performance, the people around you, or even yourself in inaccurate ways, like those fairground mirrors that make you look funny. If left unresolved, these errors can negatively impact how well you train, knock your self-confidence, and damage your relationships. In this article, I’ll share three of these common thinking traps and then provide an antidote for each that you can start using right now. 

Mental Block #1: Perfectionism

Here’s a common thinking trap you might fall into: that your performances are right on the money or they’re worthless. It’s great that you’re highly motivated, driven, and want the very best of yourself; but while perfectionism has its perks, there are also some significant downsides. One of them is that there are uncontrollables that can derail your hopes and intentions. 

For example, let’s say that you’re coming off a couple of bad sleeps and are stressed out about an argument you had with a friend. Still, you’re determined to go to the track and get a solid interval workout in. When you get there, it starts to rain, and the wind picks up. You’re determined to push through the session, but your legs feel heavy, and your mind keeps wandering back to that relationship issue and what you’ll say when you call your buddy later. When you look down at your watch after the first split, you see that you’re three seconds slower than your coach’s target, so you get mad. It’s the same story with the second and third intervals – you just seem to be getting slower and slower. By the time you get back to your car, you’re fuming at yourself and the situation. 

Instead of beating yourself up for missing your split time target, flip the situation on its head and give yourself a little grace. You had to fight through distraction, your fatigue, and the adverse weather to even start the session, let alone finish it. Rather than quitting, you did the full workout, which, even though it was slower than you’d hoped, still got you one day closer to reaching your goals. So give yourself a pat on the back and set a positive target for the next interval session, which could be as simple as “I’ll be faster.” Then go make it happen.

Mental Block #2: “It’s the End of the World”

Growing up, my nan would frequently tell me that I was “making a mountain out of a mole hill.” In other words, I was taking a small issue and magnifying it into a full-blown catastrophe. There’s nothing inherently wrong with acknowledging a problem when it arises. But if you dwell on it for too long and start to fixate or obsess, it can become a much bigger thing in your mind than it is in reality. 

Let’s take injury as an example. Imagine that you’re out for a run, step off a curb, and tweak your ankle. As it’s the fifth time you’ve done it, your brain immediately makes you freak out. You think, “What if it’s as bad as that sprain that kept me out for a month last year?” You hobble home and sure enough, when you take off your sock, you see swelling. Soon the ankle starts to turn a weird color. And here comes the panic train! 

Sure, it sucks to sprain your ankle. But before your thoughts get completely out of control, you need to check yourself and put the situation in context. OK, you might miss a few weeks of running, but your upper body is fine, so you can still get some good gym sessions in. And it’s not like you dislocated the joint or that there’s a bone sticking out of your skin, so it could be worse. While it’s a genuine setback, it’s not actually the end of the world. 

Mental Block #3: Negative Self-Talk

In every sport and at any level, confidence is key. If you don’t believe in yourself, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about you. Confidence doesn’t exist in isolation but is tightly tied to self-talk. Dr. Jim Afremow, sports psychologist and my co-author of The Leader’s Mind, says that “The most important words you’ll ever hear are the ones you say to yourself.” And yet it’s possible that sometimes you beat yourself up verbally, which can lower your confidence and limit your performance. 

Let’s say that you are running late for a gym workout and forget to bring your own yoga mat for your warmup. You only realize when you get there, and immediately say, “I’m such an idiot.” Then you berate yourself again when you drop your keys as you get out of your car. These two things might seem small, but if repeated often enough, they chip away at your confidence and make you into your own worst enemy. 

When you catch yourself saying something self-defeating, immediately counter it with a positive affirmation such as “That’s not like me” or “I’m a champion.” This gets your thinking back on a constructive track and will actually build your self-confidence. Life can beat you up all by itself – don’t give it a helping hand. Instead, resolve to be your own biggest supporter. As Bruce Lee rightly said, “Don’t speak negatively about yourself, even as a joke!! Your body doesn’t know the difference. Words are energy and cast spells, that’s why it’s called spelling. Change the way you speak about yourself and you can change your life.” 

All too often, we focus our efforts on the physical aspects because these are the easiest to see and measure. But your body heads in the direction that your mind takes it, so try to be more aware of what you’re thinking, and if it’s taking you the wrong way, use the tactics above to reroute yourself back to the successful path. 

Find Training Plans On The Trainingpeaks Marketplace

Train Smarter With a Plan

Training Plan Store

Take the guesswork out of your training with a training plan. Browse the world's largest collection of triathlon, cycling, and running plans to find one that fits your schedule and goals.

About Phil White
Phil White is an Emmy-nominated writer and the co-author of The 17 Hour Fast with Dr. Frank Merritt, Waterman 2.0 with Kelly Starrettand Unplugged with Andy Galpin and Brian Mackenzie. Learn more at and follow Phil on Instagram @philwhitebooks.

Related Articles