Can Positive Memories Impact Performance?

Illustration: Oliver Baker

This article first appeared on Triathlete.

A workout gone wrong can make you wish you never had to put on a pair of running shoes again. New research suggests that we ought to simply shelve those negative memories and spend more time thinking about the runs that went right. The study, published in the journal Memory, discovered that recalling a positive past exercise experience can actually help motivate a person to exercise more. In surveying 150 college athletes, those who were coached on conjuring up a positive memory associated with past training logged more exercise over the week-long study than those who didn’t recall such an experience.

Adrienne Langelier, a mental performance consultant based in Magnolia, Texas, says that we should all have a highlight reel of great workouts and races ready to access at any given time. “Recalling past positive experiences for evidence that your future experience will be favorable is important,” she says.

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With the runners she consults, she often has to do some work to get them to shift from dwelling on the negative to focusing on the positive. “You want to see the race you ran well, instead of the one that didn’t work out,” Langelier explains.

When you have a reel of positive images flicking through your mind, you’re more likely to relax and run your best during a workout or race. “On the starting line, you want to have some key experiences ready to access before the gun goes off to give you a boost in confidence,” she says. “Then you’re more likely to turn some of that race-day anxiety into excitement.”

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