The Belief that Will Take Your Training to the Next Level

If you look at people who are successful in almost any field, you’ll find a belief that they all share.

I learned it from Tony Robbins (you watched his show on Tuesday, right?), and it has made a major difference not just in my running, but in my life.

Last summer when I was training to qualify for Boston, I noticed something about my thinking that was holding me back. If I had a good run, I’d tell myself, “I’m really running well; I must be getting stronger.”

But if during a run I noticed I wasn’t hitting my paces, I’d find something external to blame it on.  It was the heat, it was the hills, it was that I hadn’t fully recovered from the last workout.  If it helped me feel better about myself and my chance of qualifying, anything would do.

In the moment, that felt good.  But if I’d kept on thinking like that, I’m sure I never would have qualified.

The belief that made all the difference

The belief that, once adopted, destroyed that type of thinking, was this one:

Whatever happens, I am responsible.

It doesn’t mean you have to beat yourself up over anything that goes wrong.  It means when something isn’t good enough, it’s up to you to change it.

And only you.

When you adopt this belief, and I mean really, truly accept it as fact, you begin to see through all the excuses you’ve been employing to keep yourself from feeling any pain.  And once you can do that, change is inevitable.

How I (briefly) forgot this

I haven’t written much about running in the past month, mainly because I took about four weeks off after my 50-miler.  I needed a break from running, more mentally than anything else.

This only became a problem when I realized that my next 50-miler, in Vermont, was nine weeks away.  I had to get back to running, to build up mileage again, and fast.

Only that wasn’t so easy to do.  The month of July has been one big heat wave where I live, and apparently, my mental muscles got a little flabby during the time off too. When I knew I had to get back out there but didn’t quite feel like it, the heat was the perfect excuse to stay inside.

“I would train, if only it weren’t so hot out.”

“It’ll be cooler next week.  I’ll start then.”

And then I realized what I was doing.

If I show up to that start line in Vermont and have to run 50 miles that I’m not in shape to run, nobody is going to care when I tell them it was too hot to train in July.  And having an excuse like that certainly isn’t going to make the 50 miles any less miserable to actually run.

As soon as I recognized that I am responsible, regardless of the weather or anything else, I was able to make it happen.  Since I did that, I’ve been in the gym or out on the trail almost every single day.

It’s not just running

Believing that you’re responsible for whatever happens affects more than just your training, of course.  When you believe it, you stop making excuses, even little ones you didn’t realize you made.

And not just in your own head, but in your interactions with others.  I don’t know who Kimberly Johnson is, but she said you should “never ruin an apology with an excuse.”

I love this quote.  When you say, “Sorry I’m late, traffic was bad,” that’s an excuse.  Even when it’s true.  So is, “Sorry I didn’t call you back, I had such a busy day.”

Keep the “sorry,” lose the excuse.

In the short term, it’s harder.  There’s a moment of awkward silence the excuse used to fill, because the person you’re talking to expects the excuse.   The first time you’re standing there, high and dry with nothing but the apology, it sucks.

But in the long term, you come to take responsibility for every last bit of your life.

To me, that’s pretty badass.

Check it!

Courtney, at Be More With Less, is doing a Julie/Julia-type project and cooking her way through my new pinole and chia e-cookbook!   But she needs a name for project, since “Julie & Julia”  (a) is taken and (b) makes no sense here.  If you suggest a name and she chooses it, you’ll win a copy.  So head over there and help Courtney decide what to call the project!

This post is part of a series on motivation for running.  Check out the rest!



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  1. Great post and so TRUE! I am guilty of doing this too – it is good to be more aware of it and work at reducing it. As for ruining apologies with an excuse, in our family we have a running joke about when people say, “I’m sorry, BUT…” – there is nothing that infuriates my dad more than that!

  2. Great post and very true. I love coming across something learned in running that can be applied to every day life. Good luck in Vermont.

  3. I’m glad to here you’re back at it with the right mindset, I had been wondering about your running and I’m very glad the flabby brain is better.

    The part of this concept that I find transforming is that when you take responsibility and own your choices you finally have the ability to change. Everything.

  4. Great post! Anxious to hear about your training over the next nine weeks!

  5. Matt, Thanks for the mention about my project cooking all of the recipes from your amazing cookbook! There are some great suggestions for project names. I can’t wait to more!


  6. “Whatever happens, I am responsible.
    It doesn’t mean you have to beat yourself up over anything that goes wrong. It means when something isn’t good enough, it’s up to you to change it.”

    I am saving this one! It’s good and says it all. Can relate it to so many parts of life.

  7. Thank you for this. As someone who struggles to “fit training in,” it is a good reminder that everyday, I have a choice whether or not to run. If I choose not to run, that is my choice, it is not because of work, play, etc. It’s because, I chose to not get up earlier, stay up later, or turn down an invitation to go out. Neither choice is right or wrong, it just has an impact on my goals, whatever they are (PRing, spending more time with friends, sleeping more). It is a far more empowering mindset.

  8. Just found your website and I think it’s really great!! My husband and I started running in November and started training for the Philadelphia Marathon in May. We are about half way through the training and are looking for more information on fueling ourselves for peak performance. You have a lot of great ideas and information… and this latest post is so true. Good luck in Vermont!

  9. What an inspiring post! I really like what you had to say here- it is all so absolutely true. Responsibility wins out over excuses every damn time.


  10. This post couldn’t have come at a better time for me. Reading it made me rethink about I have been thinking lately. I’ve been slacking on my training and feeling really bad about it. I hate the way I feel when I make up excuses (the humidity and perpetual heat wave is at the top of my list!) and feel so much when I make the choice to run or strength train, instead of falling prey to my excuses- no matter how creative they are!

  11. Excellent post! I’m sorry I didn’t read it sooner, but traffic was horrible…LOL… jk.

    Excellent points and quite timely as I have just posted my non-race report unapologetically. I will be trying out the apology without the excuse in all areas of my life. Expect to hear crickets…

  12. I love this post. I need to bookmark it to come back to again and again. I used to have a terrible habit of being late, but I did exactly what you suggest and started cutting out the excuses from my apologies. And it was REALLY hard, but it forced me to take ownership of the poor time management and planning that was the root cause of my perpetual tardiness (even if the traffic didn’t help matters!). But I haven’t fully incorporated this mindset into my training.

  13. Thanks for this post Matt. This is definitely something I struggle with. Just last night – I was doing a 8 mile tempo run and tried out a hand held water bottle for the first time. Within the first mile I wanted to throw the bottle down because it was heavy – but just the week before I was complaining about my thirst. So I had to make a decision and either deal with thirst or deal with strengthening my arm muscles with a water bottle.

  14. Hmm…. I hate to be the pessimist, but I have mixed feelings about this post. I have followed this advice pretty much since the beginning and hold myself personally responsible… and that’s precisely what has gotten me in trouble! It has led to overtraining on my part, and yes I realize that your point is I should stop and say “I am responsible for my overtraining.” The problem is, it’s bad cycle, and if I skip a day or two then I’ll always tell myself I screwed up because I didn’t train enough, or hard enough, ETC.

    Also, regarding overtraining, there really are some very very hot or poor weather (high pollution) days when no one should go out and run. Yet I’m the masochist who will still go out and do it, even if I hurt while doing it. It’s not the weather, it really is all about me, and this is a bad thing as far as I’m concerned! I should be stopped!!! 😉

  15. Love this! Lately, I have been giving into all sorts of excuses (I’m too tired, I went to bed too late last night, it’s too early/hot/late… to go for a run). Your post makes me realize that I AM RESPONSIBLE. Thanks for the kick in the butt!

  16. This is EXACTLY the post I needed to read today. I’m training for my first half in October and I have let summer in the south be my excuse for slacking off this week. I have a 7 mile run in the morning and have been contemplating not doing it “because it’s so hot outside.” No more excuses. 🙂

    I have also recently tried to stop using excuses when I apologize for things and just let it be an apology. Takes some getting used to.

  17. Thanks for highlighting this in your 7. I have been doing just this & there is NO EXCUSE for being lazy. This is just the motivation I’ve been needing all week. I’m making it a commitment to get back on track with training, starting today as soon as I can! Thanks Matt 🙂

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