Coping with Negative Thinking

Aug 25, 2020

Negative thinking for runners

Negative thinking patterns become habits in the same way that physical mannerisms do. The stronger our thinking habits are, the less consciously aware we are of them. Some of our habits serve us well, while others hold us back and create unnecessary stress. If you constantly believe that you won’t be able to reach a goal, then the chances are that you won’t. Think about last time you were racing for a new PB and somewhere along the road you started thinking, “I can’t do this” – you probably didn’t set a new PB that day.

Just as our existing habits were learnt at some point in the past, so too we can develop new thinking habits. Use the checklist below to consider the boxes that need to be ticked to get yourself out of the negative thinking trap.


  • Negative thinking inhibits effective performance.
  • Positive thinking can also inhibit effective performance (when it is not in line with the actual reality of the situation).
  • The most helpful type of thinking, is accurate thinking.


  • Identify the situations in which you are most likely to start thinking negatively.
  • List the most common negative thoughts which you experience in these situations.
  • Challenge their accuracy – are these assumptions of yours definitely 100% accurate?

Reflect on

  • Where might your negative thinking habits have originated?
  • What – at that time – might have been the advantages to thinking in this way?
  • Since then, have circumstances changed? In what way?
  • How might you need to adapt your thinking to best suit the current circumstances, and to best help you achieve your future goals?

The concept of ‘accurate thinking’ can be very powerful in changing people’s attitudes, emotions and ultimately their lives. It does however require good insight and a willingness to really work on it over time. To get more help with this, look for a psychologist with knowledge and experience in something called CBT (or related processes).

“You need just enough optimism to inspire hope, and just enough pessimism to prevent complacency”.

Clinton Gahwiler

Clinton runs the psychology practice of the Sports Science Institute of South Africa in Cape Town. His main interests lie in the fields of sport and health psychology where he helps clients to develop, implement and maintain strategies which optimise performance and well-being, on a sustainable basis. Read more about Clinton here

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