How focusing on process (not outcome) improves performance


US top marathon runner Desi Linden in a recent interview explained her 2018 win in the Boston marathon. That year she felt weak, certainly not capable of winning. The weather was awful, she ran to survive. At that moment, she recalled, the words of her former college coach.

Before race meets, he only asked for her team members to be READY. That was different from how they felt (and talk about all the feelings that were bothering them). She and her teammates learned not to focus on their self-talk. Just to confirm that they were race ready. Race ready can also be lawyers, professionals and business owners I would say.

What is readiness

This made me think about performance in normal life. I certainly see the parallel. When you step into the game, the podium or arena you will often feel anxiety, stress, feel worried.

It is normal; saying counter-productive things to ourself. When preparing for an important presentation, a talk before an audience, going into negotiations – depending on how serious, the situation is a voice will say: ‘Is it really me who should do this? Why would people believe me? ‘I don’t feel well’.

According to Desi, if you have prepared for months for a top performance  – as top athletes know – you will have the skills, knowledge and practice under your belt. All you need to do is show up. Despite all these doubts, feelings and counter productive ways that mess with our minds.

So how did she fix it: focus on the task at hand

She made herself going back to the basics. She limited herself to only to focus on her tasks for the race. In sports psychology, this is called focusing on the process – instead of the outcome. For her that meant to focus on just joining the next little group of runners 50 meter in the race, or defend her position, eat a gel etc. Not more!

Once she caught up to them, there was the next task waiting.

She did not focus on her lousy physical feeling, the rain, the other runners who were doing fine – once she reached the little goal she felt she accomplished something. And moved on. Ticking one goal, then the next. Etcetera.

It paid off. She won the Boston Marathon in 2hr 39min 54sec, despite feeling awful for most of the duration of the race. Listen to the full interview here.

In my business coaching and online coaching I focus on self-talk and how to manage it. 

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Robert de Wilde