I have run 16 marathons and now going for my 17th this Sunday. Couple of weeks before the run I am still overconfident and raving about my upcoming new record. Week before marathon I start to be more quiet. It feels that my condition is horrible. I envision all the possible injuries I will get and the bad weather upon me. Then I usually just run it.
Although people always talk about positive thinking, actually it might be more beneficial to defensive pessimist:
“When people are being defensively pessimistic, they set low expectations, but then they take the next step which is to think through in concrete and vivid ways what exactly might go wrong. What we’ve seen in the research is if they do this in a specific, vivid way, it helps them plan to avoid the disaster. They end up performing better than if they didn’t use the strategy. It helps them direct their anxiety toward productive activity.”
Whether it is running the marathon or doing a big presentation, I generally advocate the following pattern:
1. Be generally strategic optimist: Believe in yourself and be confident
When something is still far away, envision the best possible outcome and eagerly plan to make it happen. Make public promises and be overconfident. This usually also inspires me to work more and ensure that I don´t fail.
2. Be defensive pessimist close to your performance: Make the mental image of things going really bad
When the actual event is approaching you start to freak out. That is a good thing because your defensive pessimism starts to kick in. By visualizing all the major things that go wrong you are not affected by the minor things that go wrong.
3. On gameday: Don´t think, just do it
When it is the race day or big presentation, you just let it go. You usually realize that it is not as bad as you envisioned and keep on going. After you jumped from the cliff, it is also too late to climb back.
“I would visualize the best- and the worst-case scenarios. Whether I get disqualified or my goggles fill up with water or I loser my goggle or I come in last, I´m ready for anything.