One of the things I seem to spend a lot of my personal and professional time telling runners, especially those just getting into running goes something along the lines of “you can do this if you believe in yourself and have some confidence.”
Self-confidence is cited a great deal throughout psychological research and literature as effecting athletic performance. What I want to explain here though, is not general self-confidence that improves our general levels of optimism about our athletic prowess, but more about having confidence in specific activities related to our running performance.
For example, I spoke with a runner recently at a training session who said to me “I am great with hills, I can run up them all day long, but I really struggle with the speed sessions, always have done.” What’s more, in years gone by, I have even conceded to my brother when discussing our running (which we have done and still do a LOT over the years) “I can keep it going on the long endurance runs, but I am not so good with the shorter faster runs, am I?”
The classic concept of specific self-confidence was defined by Bandura (1977 & 1986) as self-efficacy. Bandura wanted to explain the relationship between cognitive beliefs and performance. Self-efficacy is our own judgment of our own ability to successfully perform a behaviour. Self-efficacy theory asserts that actual performance will be predicted by the athlete’s belief in personal competence when they have the correct incentives and skills or training.
Therefore, if a runner has the perception that they can run successfully, that belief and perception increases the likelihood that the runner will run successfully. Judgments about our own self-efficacy have been shown to predict exercise level and support this theory (Bock et al., 1997; Sullum, Clark, & King, 2000).
According to self-efficacy theory, as well as being a predictor of performance, efficacy expectations will also predict how much energy we expend and our persistence to complete the activity – which for a runner could influence training levels or ability in races.
Bandura’s early work suggested that our own efficacy expectations are influenced by four main sources of information available to the runner:
- Performance accomplishments:
Previous performances tend to provide the runner with the most amount of dependable information upon which to base one’s self-efficacy. If previous performances at training sessions, races and running events have been perceived by the runner as successful, this raises efficacy expectations. Likewise, if training sessions, races and events have been deemed failures, this lowers efficacy expectation. If a runner has no previous experience upon which to make expectation, this can also lower efficacy expectation – perhaps accounting for first-time marathoners feeling so nervous as they step into the unknown with potentially low self-efficacy rates.
From a personal point of view, I recall how challenging I found my first ever 10km race. It seemed daunting and tough. Yet many years on from that and following years where I have run several marathons in consecutive weeks, I believe that my ability to run a 10km with no training at all is there and that level of self-efficacy fuels my ability.
Many, many people find an event they perform well at and decide that this is ‘my best event’ and continue to compete well in it.
It makes sense then to look at how we attribute success and failure and engage in strategies to enhance our belief in ourselves by perceiving the positives in what we have done. You can read more about how to find out how you attribute success and failure to your running performances here.
- Vicarious experience:
Information that influences our self-efficacy can also come from observing others or imagining others engaging in certain tasks, even if we have not performed that task ourselves before. Modelling has been shown to increase perceived efficacy in a variety of sporting disciplines. You can read more about modelling other runners here.
- Verbal persuasion:
Peers, coaches, colleagues, friends and family, and heck a whole host of others can verbally influence an athlete’s behaviour and performance. In my own work, I use hypnosis and therapy interventions to help persuade individuals to believe in themselves.
Additionally, some coaches and other professionals enhance efficacy by utilizing performance deception; that is, giving the individual better stats than they actually achieved to help them believe they are more capable as an aid to that belief then leading them to achieve more. Evidence has shown gains are to be had with such a technique (Ness & Patton, 1977) This cannot be done by one’s self, but it gives you an idea of how perception influences efficacy which in turn effects performance.
One way of attempting to alter our own perception would be to replay future memories or goal-directed fantasy inside our mind as a means of engaging in what we hope to achieve. You may want to read about goal-setting for runners here, and explore the notion of creating future memories.
- Emotional arousal and intensity level:
As my previous couple of entries on this blog suggested, our levels of intensity influence our performance. If we feel very anxious or nervous, we may interpret this as a physiological indicator that we cannot perform as we had hoped, which then effects self-efficacy.
Points 3 & 4 could be combined too; if you were persuaded that your intensity levels were positively influencing your performance, then this may well influence your efficacy expectation. You might want to revisit/visit my previous entries here on that topic too.
Other topics that I have looked at on this blog that help advance self-efficacy, in addition to the points raised already are;
a) Use of self-talk.
The things you say to yourself affect self-confidence either positively or negatively. If your internal dialogue has inherent negative expectancy or excessive self-doubt, this undermines self-efficacy. You can read in much more detail about Internal Dialogue for Runners here and in the articles before and after it.
b) Mental imagery.
You can imagine yourself performing well, you can imagine yourself running effectively and you can also use imagery for the previously mentioned vicarious learning.
You can read in much more detail about Mental Imagery here and in the articles before and after it.
of course. I was always going to include this. It is the raison d’etre of this website! I’ll be back very soon with a self-hypnosis technique aimed exclusively at enhancing self-efficacy levels in runners.
Be back soon, happy running!
Bandura, A. (1977) Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavior change. Psychological Review, 84, 191-215.
Bandura, A. (1986) Social foundations of thought and action. A social-cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentic-Hall.
Bock, B. C., Albrecht, A. E., Traficante, R. M., Clark, M. M., Pinto, B. M., Tilkemeier, P., & Marcus, B. H. (1997) Predictors of exercise adherence following participation in a cardiac rehabilitation program. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 23, 79-87.
Ness, R. G., & Patton, R. W. (1977) The effect of external cue manipulation upon weight-lifting performance. Paper presented at the American Alliance of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation, Seattle, WA.
Sullum, J., Clark, M. M., & King, T. K. (2000) Predictors of exercise relapse in a college population. Journal of American College Health, 48, 175-180.