RunWalk Tips: Goals & Mental Imagery

Less than 4 weeks away from the Vancouver Sun Run!

While there’s plenty of focus on the physical side of activity, RunWalk participants must also consider the psychological aspect. This includes setting goals and targets, and visualizing your success through mental imagery. 

By Sport Psychologist & SportMedBC Chair, Dr. David Cox:


Goals: Outcome, Performance & Process

1) Outcome goals focus on the actual results of an activity and usually involve a sense of winning, losing and crossing the finish line. In this context, very few individuals ultimately win. This means that we can perform to the best of our ability and we still lose in outcome terms. We need to be careful to not focus too much attention on outcome goals, as they can undermine our sense of confidence and belief in our abilities as we do not have complete control over the outcome – i.e. we can only compete to the best of our ability which may not produce the desired outcome.

2) Performance goals relate to “how we compete.” We can have performance goals in all domains – technical, physical and psychological. The importance of performance goals is that they are essentially under our control and are independent of the outcome – i.e. we can compete and be completely satisfied with our performance despite not having achieved the outcome we desired. The emphasis should be on performance goals as they help us develop our sense of confidence and belief in our skills as success is independent of the outcome.

3) Process goals relate to how we prepare to perform. These goals are very much under our control – sleep, nutrition, equipment, training behaviour, travel, etc. It’s important to have process goals as they also help develop our confidence and belief in our skills. Again, we can be prepared to the best of our ability while not achieving the outcome we hoped for. In a somewhat paradoxical way, the likelihood of achieving an outcome is related to our ability to let go of the need to have it. Again, focus on the process and let the outcome take care of itself.

As we establish performance and process goals rather than outcome goals, our focus shifts to competence – i.e. how we feel about ourselves rather than competition, how we compare ourselves to others. The emphasis here is on intrinsic rather than extrinsic values which derive from the fundamental reasons why we take up activity like RunWalk – fun and friends, enjoyment and affiliation. In order to sustain commitment to activity, it’s important that athletes experience these basic values.

We should also establish both long-term and short-term goals. Short-term goals can be daily goals like, “what do I want to achieve today?” Long-term goals may project well into the future. In this context, we can also have intermediate range goals and dream goals which express an ultimate aspiration. 



Mental Rehearsal/Imagery/Visualization:

Mental rehearsal and imagery provides the opportunity to practice skills mentally as well as physically. This can be extremely useful in the development of skills. For many athletes, this is an underutilized skill that can have important implications in activities like RunWalk. 

We make the distinction between first-person and third-person imagery. The latter is a passive, external, visual image of one performing skills, executing strategies and involves visual processes. You see yourself as an observer. First-person imagery is a more active, internal, proprioceptive process of actually performing the skills, and is a much more kinesthetic experience (i.e. the body may move in response to the image, it’s in the muscles, it’s a “feeling”). It’s as if you are actually executing the skill.

A good example: Third-person imagery might be used to plan a response to a particular situation or executing activity through seeing one’s performance as a spectator would see it… Whereas first-person imagery might be used to experience a RunWalk or a workout routine in an active sense as if one were actually performing the necessary skills and could involve muscle movements, sounds, smells and visual experiences.

Imagery can be used at any time to prepare for an activity or event. It can create positive momentum but can be used at specific times (before sleeping, upon awakening, during transportation or as part of a pre-performance routine), helping develop a sense of momentum and enhancing confidence prior to competition.

Best of luck in your RunWalk experience and in the Vancouver Sun Run!

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