Coach Tip Tuesday: You are your own prophet
Photo Description: A screenshot from "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" in which Harry Potter is holding a prophecy about himself.
Another week, another Coach Tip Tuesday!!
You all probably guess that I write workouts and training plans, but a lot of my work as an endurance coach involves talking to athletes about tactics that can help them successfully reach their goals.
As you can imagine, setting a big goal prompts a wide range of emotions in people; everything from excitement to dread to anticipation to anxiety. I spend a lot of time talking to the athletes I work with about how to navigate and manage these emotions.
One of the most common concepts I talk about is that of the self-fulfilled prophecy. Simply put, this term describes predictions that cause themselves to come true. Whether the prediction is “good” or “bad” doesn’t matter; the prediction itself can cause it to become true simply by existing.
In a best-case scenario, an athlete predicts that they will be successful, and they achieve success at reaching their goal. In a worst-case scenario, an athlete predicts that they will not be successful, and they do not reach their goal. In either case, the athlete’s expectations (predictions) about how they would act or perform lead to them exhibiting behaviors that confirm those expectations.
In my career as a coach, I’ve seen this work both ways. Of course, it is the hardest when I watch an athlete fulfill their own negative prophecy about how they will perform. Even though this is sad and hard for me as their coach, this is something that I have to acknowledge as real. You’ve heard it before: We are what we think. And what is in our heads is very real; it is so real and powerful that it can translate out of our heads and into the physical world.
One of the best examples of this in sport revolves around the 4-minute mile. Before 1954, scientists, the athletic community, and humans in general felt that it was impossible for a human to run a mile in less than four minutes. Several runners had come close (even as close as 4:02), but they felt that it was not possible to break that barrier. Sir Roger Bannister, however, did not think that this was an impossible goal. He believed that he could run a mile in less than four minutes under the right conditions. In 1954, he did just that; he ran a mile in 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds. Mr. Bannister’s feat is an example of a positive self-fulfilling prophecy, and the other runners’ inability to break this barrier is an example of a negative self-fulfilling prophecy.
While this is rather wonderful, it’s not actually the most interesting part of the story. Sir Roger Bannister’s record for the mile time lasted a mere 46 days, and over the course of the next year, several athletes went on to run the mile distance in less than four minutes.
What changed?? Someone (Sir Roger Bannister) HAD run a mile in less than four minutes. This showed people that it was actually physically possible. So, they started their races after he achieved this milestone with that belief in their heads, and it allowed them to overcome their previously held (and executed) self-fulfilled prophecies; it transformed those expectations and predictions into positive self-fulfilling prophecies.
It's so very important that you acknowledge the power of self-fulfilled prophecies In your own lives and athletic endeavors. You’ve heard me say it before: there isn’t another human on the planet who you will have more conversations with than you will with yourself. You need to be careful about what you tell yourself, because you are listening.
While achieving any goal - big or small - requires more than just thinking our way through it, what we think is a foundational part of the goal-achieving process. As such, we should aim to forecast positive prophecies for ourselves, as it will increase the probability of our success.
How do we do this?? Well for starters, we acknowledge all thoughts that come into our brains. But if that thought is a negative thought, we need to both acknowledge it and then redirect it. If we are feeling anxious, we need to ask ourselves why. Often, we feel a lack of preparation, and this can fuel negative thoughts. So then, we need to look toward what we can control in the situation. Maybe there is something we can do in order to feel a bit more prepared. Maybe we are telling ourselves a story that isn’t entirely true, and we can look back on our training logs and data and realize that we are, in fact, equipped with the tools that we need to be successful.
At the end of the day, you are your own prophet. Yes, YOU are powerful, and you DO have this much control over yourself. YOU are writing the prophecies of your life. Strive to have them be positive prophecies, and watch them turn into positive self-fulfilled prophecies.
Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Endurance and Paratriathlon Certified Coach, IRONMAN U Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and NASM Certified Personal Trainer. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success. She can be reached at laura@teamMPI.com.