Owner's Manual: Get a Mental Edge
Learn to beat nervousness, mid-race demons
By Douglas Schooler, Ph.D
As featured in the May 2008 issue of Running Times Magazine
In some way or another, every runner gets pre-race nervousness, awkward mid-race moments of self-doubt or sometimes a lingering negative vibe that can spurred by a rough workout, a bad race or even overtraining. It's how a runner deals with those mental ailments that can determine how well he or she might run the next day or an important goal race later in the season.
One quick and easy way to tackle the mental aspects of running is through Emotional Freedom Techniques, or EFT. Perhaps best characterized as emotional acupressure, EFT uses gentle tapping on key meridian points to reduce or eliminate unwanted emotions or physical sensations, replacing them with feelings of comfort.
Gary Craig, a personal performance coach from Coulterville, Calif., developed EFT based on the work of psychologist Roger Callahan and what had been called Thought Field Therapy. In the mid-1980s, Callahan accidentally discovered that tapping on certain acupuncture points could rapidly eliminate anxiety and phobias. In my psychology practice, I use EFT to help clients recover from emotional trauma and all kinds of emotional suffering. And as a competitive masters runner, I also use it as a personal training and racing aid.
It's an easy technique that can be done in a few moments, regardless of where you are. You can use it to calm pre-race jitters while you're at work, apply it during a race to ease the pain of hard effort, and use it after a race to reduce pain of injury or the disappointment of perceived poor performance.
Follow the steps on the left to use EFT before or during a race. To use EFT to reduce bad feelings after a disappointing race, use a similar sequence. First, describe how you feel in your own words. Then begin a modified Setup phase by tapping the karate chop point continuously, saying out loud, "Even though I missed my goal time (or goal place) and feel disappointed (or angry or sad), I deeply and completely accept myself." Repeat two more times. Then tap the head and torso points as described above, using the Reminder phrase, "missed my goal disappointment." Take a deep breath, close your eyes for a few seconds, and then again measure the intensity of your feelings.
Assuming the intensity has decreased somewhat, repeat Setup saying three times, "Even though I still have some of that missed-my-goal disappointment, I deeply and completely accept myself." Then tap the head and torso points, repeating at each point, "the remaining missed-my-time disappointment." Take a breath, close your eyes, and then measure intensity again. Repeat, tapping until remaining intensity is level 2 or below. The Setup and Reminder phrases do not have to be exact, or grammatically correct, but should refer to a specific issue or event.
A competitive runner since the mid-1970s, Doug Schooler is a licensed psychologist and board-certified hypnotherapist based in Boca Raton, Fla. To learn more about EFT, visit http://www.emofree.com/.
How to use EFT to reduce pre-race jitters:
1. Pinpoint a problem. For example, let's say you want to reduce pre-race nervousness about next Saturday's 10K, several days or even just minutes before the gun goes off .
2. Rate your nervousness on a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 standing for maximum possible nervousness. Let's say your rating of nervousness is a 9.
3. Tap the fleshy edge of either hand, between the bottom of the little finger and the start of the wrist, the part you'd use to "karate chop" something, with several fingers from the opposite hand, while saying something like the following: "Even though I'm nervous about next Saturday's 10K [or next month's marathon], I deeply and completely accept myself." Continue tapping on the edge of your hand, repeating that phrase two more times for a total of three repetitions. Tapping this way is called the Setup phase.
4. Now you are ready to tap points on the face and torso, on either side and with either hand. Gently tap seven to nine times on each of these points while saying, out loud, this reminder phrase, "10K race nervousness," once at each point: eyebrow near nose, bone on side of eye, bone under eye, under nose, indentation on chin, collar bone where it meets rib cage, under arm along side of body, top of head.
5. After tapping all the points, take a deep breath and close your eyes for a few seconds. Then open your eyes and notice your level of discomfort, in this example your level of nervousness about the race. Let's assume your perceived nervousness decreased from a 9 to 6. Next, you would repeat the Setup using slightly different language: Tap the karate chop edge of either hand while saying, "Even though I still have some of this 10K nervousness, I deeply and completely accept myself." Repeat two more times. Then, tap all the head and torso points as before, saying once out loud at each point, "the remaining 10K race nervousness."
6. Repeat step 5 until the perceived nervousness has decreased to level 2 or below. You can use an abbreviated version of EFT during a race or hard training. Simply tap on one or two of the points as you are running, while repeating silently to yourself "this discomfort" or "this heavy breathing" or just simply "RELAX." You can experiment with which point(s) and phrase(s) give you the greatest relief.