It’s the Process

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It’s the Process

Written by Richard Ferguson, Ph.D. on 27 September 2017.

When you go to a race the event becomes a means by which to produce some type of product, i.e. performance, from a great deal of process, i.e. training. Since racing may represent some product, many runners experience internal pressure to make the product come out really well, i.e. run fast, set a PR etc. However, self-awareness of this pressure to perform and produce a really good product may actually serve to reduce the quality of the product.

            By focusing too much on the outcome, or product, you can actually view it as concentration issue. To produce any product there must be a process to get you to the product and if you forget the process and think too much about the product, the process will break down and a poor product may be produced. It’s like baking a cake; get in a hurry to get the cake done and don’t follow the recipe and you risk coming out with a fallen, dry, bad tasting cake. Too much focus on just getting to the outcome without sticking to the process can lead to problems in many aspects of life. And so it is with running.


In many cases runners will have problems staying with the process when things don’t go exactly as they have planned, either in training or in racing. If training isn’t going well or you feel bad in a race you should probably remind yourself to be patient and relax. In other words, just stay with the process. But instead, you may tell yourself that things are not going well, what you’re doing is not working and you’re going to perform poorly. In the course of training such thinking can lead to abandoning training programs, inappropriate changes in training and even overtraining or training cessation.

            By exhibiting self-doubt in the process you may actually be showing signs of low levels of confidence. When confidence is low and thoughts turn towards doubt and feelings of failure a spiral begins to form in which frustration and distractions feed upon previous frustrations and distractions. It is during these times that you must move away from thinking about the product and focus on the process. To put it in running terms, it means to forget about how you think you will finish and think about running in the present or what is going on at the present moment. As well-known psychology and motivational writer Louise Hay said, “the point of power is always the present moment. The future cannot be controlled and the past cannot be erased”.

            Thinking about the outcome of a race during training can sometimes be a positive in terms of motivation. When a runner exhibits self-talk like: “if I train hard that PR is mine” or “by doing these long runs I’ll be able to run fast enough to qualify for Boston”, motivation is enhanced by the vision of success. Almost every runner needs this vision to get them through difficult training periods. The key though is to be sure to stick with your training plan. However, once competition begins focusing on the outcome can actually become a negative distraction.

            When you begin to think about just how important a race is or what can be won or lost at the end of the race, then concentration and physical problems may present themselves and interfere with actual running performance. In other words, you may begin to focus too much on the result and not the process of getting the result. When you begin to think about a race and interpret it as being really important or you begin to focus too much on the result while actually running the race, performance may suffer. Anxiety can result, and you begin to tighten up, both physically and mentally. Many times performance suffers and you perform below your expectations, even though you were well prepared. Many people refer to this phenomenon as choking. In reality, choking is really a concentration problem where an athlete focuses too much on the product and not the process. They get all tied up thinking about the ramifications of the outcome

            To run your best it’s very important to be able to recognize during a race when you’re placing too much importance on the outcome and too much pressure on yourself. So instead of thinking about the outcome of your race, try working to develop thoughts about the process. For example, think about an aspect of your form, like keeping your arms relaxed, maintaining good posture and running form, or keeping a smooth rhythm with your stride. These types of thoughts are called process cues because they have to do with the actual performance of running and not the outcome of the race. Process cues can help you better focus in the present and become a more mindful runner, both in training and competition.

            When focusing on process cues and not the outcome you will find process thinking will become a dominant habit and, as a result, the outcome of the race will take care of itself. Through focusing on the process, the running product can actually be

improved. With the improved performance comes enhanced confidence and a desire to set challenging goals in your running.

            A long term goal, such as finishing a marathon or running a new personal best, can be considered an outcome, but short term goals should be what will drive the process of how you will reach your long term goal. So your daily and weekly running goals actually form a process for achieving your long term goal. There is no question that to reach any major goal some process must be involved. In reality the process would be your training plan. On the other hand, focusing only on the outcome without having thought about the process will probably result in disappointment and frustration. Work to become more process oriented and the race results will simply fall into place. When race day rolls around your process will allow you to achieve your desired running product! So always remember that process leads to product.


Richard Ferguson is Chair of the Physical Education, Wellness, and Sport Science Department at Averett University and is an AASP Certified Sport Psychology Consultant. He may be reached via e-mail at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


Read more of Dr. Ferguson articles on -


Are You Someone’s Inspiration? -


On Being a RUNNER -


Bouncing Back-


More Positive Approach to Running -  


 Pre-Race Sleep -


The Overtraining Conundrum -


 Getting the MOST Out of Training -


 Winning is Personal -


 Affirm Your Greatness!!! -


What is Tired? -   


The Reason We Run -


Some New Recruits -   


Are You a RUNNER? -


A Different View -


The Components of Peak Performance -


Running and Sleep -


Don’t Panic! -


The Mental Maximization of Training -


With the Help of a Friend -


Beating the Winter Blues-


Go For It -


Beating Burnout -


A New Outlook -


Expect the Unexpected -


Pain or Discomfort ? -


Keep Your Eye on the Prize -


 Running Free -


Running and Role Models -

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