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How To Change Your Self-Image To Improve Your Running

Did you know that your self-image plays a vital role in your ability to achieve any goal you set for yourself?

You can do all the goal-setting exercises you know, use the SMART – process for goal setting, and apply positive thinking strategies. But without a positive self-image, you will need tremendous amounts of willpower to make meaningful progress.

Why is that? What the heck is a self-image, and what has this to do with your running abilities?

Let’s find out.

What Is The Self-Image?

I first came across the concept of self-image by reading the book: Psycho-Cybernetics: A New Technique for Using Your Subconscious Power, written by Dr. Maxwell Maltz.

Dr. Maltz was a plastic surgeon in the 1930s and 1940s and one of the first practicing doctors in this then-new field of plastic surgery. During his work as a doctor, he discovered that changing his clients’ faces impacted not only their visual appearance but also their psyche.

For some of his clients, the surgery brought improved self-confidence and a more positive outlook on life. However, others insisted that nothing had changed after the surgery. Even though the surgery was successful and their outward appearance objectively changed, they would still feel self-conscious. They insisted that they could not see any difference.

His experience with his patients led Dr. Maltz to conclude that each of us possesses a self-image.

This self-image is a view of ourselves that determines how we see ourselves and is independent of objective reality. It is our concept of “who we are.” This concept about ourselves has been shaped through our life experiences and is a primarily subconscious belief system.

The critical thing to understand is that our feelings, actions, and behaviors are almost always consistent with that self-image. That is why some patients who had their physical looks restored after an accident re-gained their self-confidence. Because their outer look was in line again with their self-image. For those, however, who have always been self-conscious and had a poor self-image, nothing changed after the surgery.

Now, what has this to do with running and becoming a better runner?


We can expand this concept to our “running self.” Just like you identify as a parent, employee, or business owner, you can also see yourself as a runner.

It is easy to see what a mental shift from “someone who runs” to “being a runner” can mean. If you identify yourself as a runner, you make lifestyle choices that support your running. You pay attention to nutrition, rest, and recovery. And, of course, you’d complete your workouts with purpose.

And once you start to set goals for your running pursuits, you can reprogram your self-image for easier goal achievement. It doesn’t matter if this means finishing your first 10 k race, running a marathon in under 3 hours, or completing your first ultra-marathon –

Here is a 3 -step process you can follow to reprogram the image you have of your running – self:

Step 1. Create Your Ideal Running-Self

Write down a running goal you want to focus on. For example, your goal could be to run your first marathon in under 4 hours. Write this on a sheet of paper. Now list all the character traits you think someone capable of achieving this goal possesses.

Next, I want you to note all the actions this person would take daily and weekly.

How would someone who can accomplish this goal go about their day?

For example, your list could include:

  • This person would run 4-5 times a week.
  • This person would pre-cook their meals on the weekend to always have healthy dinners when they come home from a long workday.
  • This person would make time to see a running coach to work on their technique.
  • This person would run with focus and good form.
  • This person goes running even when they don’t feel like it, or the weather isn’t perfect.

Step 2. Create A Mental Movie

Once you have a list of character traits and actions, write out a movie script where you see yourself performing said actions and inhibiting those character traits.

For example, a paragraph of your movie script could read like this:

“I get up before sunrise so that I can get a run in before my workday starts. As I brew a cup of coffee, I give thanks that I get to run in a few minutes and start the day with an hour of solitude and time for myself. While drinking my coffee, I put on my running clothes that I laid out the night before.

I head out with a clear goal for this run and focus my attention on my body. I run with good form, relaxed and self-confident. I easily enter a flow state and enjoy the fresh air, the sounds of the early morning, and the sounds of my footsteps on the ground.

I finish my run happy and knowing that I already achieved something that matters to me.

I cool down, stretch and have a relaxing hot shower. Then it’s breakfast time, and I enjoy a healthy meal that refuels my body and helps with my recovery.”

Step 3. Watch Your Mental Movie Daily

Once you have a movie script, you will practice watching it daily. You are changing your subconscious beliefs about yourself and your identity as a runner by doing this.

According to Dr. Maltz, your nervous system “cannot tell the difference between an actual experience and an experience imagined vividly and in detail.” That means by regularly picturing yourself as a confident and successful runner in your mind’s eye, you program yourself to act as your ideal running self in real life.

Over time your behavior in your outer world will reflect the behavior of your ideal in your inner world. However, as with any aspect of your training plan, consistency is key.

Set aside at least 10 minutes per day, where you can be uninterrupted. Find a quiet space, close your eyes and imagine yourself being in a cinema. Try to see the curtains, the chairs and smell the popcorn and cola. Find your favorite seat and make yourself comfortable.

Then start the movie.

Put yourself on the screen and see yourself acting like your ideal running self.

See how you overcome challenges during training runs and how you push yourself to be your best when you hit a tough spot during a race. See yourself performing every action with focus and confidence. 

It is best to play your mental movie at night before going to sleep. This is because you want your subconscious to go to work and help you achieve the goals you set for yourself.

And the subconscious needs relaxation to work well. The best creatives have known this and used sleep, going for a walk, or other forms of relaxation for generating ideas or solutions to problems they have been working on.

The evening is perfect for viewing your mental movie, as your subconscious has several hours of sleep to work on your goals. As Thomas Edison said: “Never go to sleep without a request to your subconscious.”

Final Tips

Once you are using mental movies to recreate your ideal running self, listen to hunches and ideas that may come to you during random times of the day.

Act on them. It is important to stress that you still have to take action consistently towards achieving your goals.

However, suppose your self-image as a runner is that of a slow, undisciplined, or self-conscious one. In that case, you will have a more challenging time achieving any ambitious running goals you set for yourself.

Using mental pictures to change your self-image will make goal achievement easier and more fun.

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