Cognitive Reframing: Mind “Trick” To Keep You Going When The Going Gets Tough


Cognitive reframing is not really a “trick” it’s a skill that I teach athletes where they learn to shift focus and self-talk which can help make particularly long or challenging sets more bearable. Did you know that you have the power to shift your perceptive, focus, and control your attitude in every situation or challenge you are faced with? You do but you must train and harness this ability. Otherwise, we continue to fall victim to negative, discouraging, or reactive self-talk and attitudes.


In Dialectal Mental Skills Training I teach athletes that “there is always more than one TRUE way to see a situation and more than one TRUE opinion, idea, thought, or dream.” This helps them (and myself) to lean on the understanding that any first thought or reaction is not always the best or most effective way to view a situation. For example, this morning I had a set of 15 minute power intervals on the bike. My first reaction/thought was “Ugh I hope my legs can push through and hold steady the whole 15 minutes.” Me, being the sport psychologist and clinical psychologist that I am, quickly became aware of my reaction and reframed how I would approach the 15 intervals. More on that in a second.

According to the medical dictionary the definition of cognitive reframing is “changing the conceptual and/or emotional viewpoint in relation to which a situation is experienced and placing it in a different frame that fits the “facts” of a concrete situation equally well, thereby changing its entire meaning.” Cognitive reframing is a technique for altering negative or self-defeating thought patterns by deliberately replacing them with positive, constructive self-talk. From the definition you can see how it could be incredibly helpful during a long race, like an Ironman, to be able to reframe situations and manage negative self-talk.

So let’s go back to my morning bike intervals. We will use my bike workout from this morning as an example of how I incorporated cognitive reframing. This morning we (my husband and I) got started around 4:45 this AM. The set included a warm up, 5 intervals of high intensity Z4, a spin out, and then the 2 x 15, and then a steady wattage to cool down and finish out the time set for the bike set. After the bike we had a transition run.

Below is an example of how reframed and mentally “broke up” one of the 15 minute intervals.


From the example you can see the “facts” of the workout did not change but the way in which I reframed the time helped me focus more on being present in that moment or minute, and as a result I worried less on what is to come or what could happen. This “method” or way of reframing is one that that works for me. Each athlete can tailor their approach to what works for them and their mindset but my example nicely illustrated the mental skill of cognitive reframing. There are many ways to apply reframing and in many situations. I’m not perfect and definitely not free from having my mentally challenging days however I know I do have tools that I use often to get me through my long runs, challenging training sets, and difficult times.

I hope this “snap shot” view into my mindset and what helps me during Ironman training. I hope it has gotten you thinking about different ways that you can approach some difficult workouts or tasks in your life. It’s approximately 7 weeks out from Ironman Texas and I’m feeling great! Marni and Karel of Trimarni Coaching and Nutrition have laid out a great training plan for Ken and I thus far. I definitely feel stronger, more confident, smarter, and best of all, injury free. No matter the outcome in Texas I know that I am being prepared well with people that I admire and trust. I could not thank them enough! In case you did not know Marni WON the women’s race at HITS (70.3) Ocala in Florida last weekend and Karel got 4th overall men and 1st AG despite a flat on the bike. They’re on fire! Big things coming from them. So excited for their hard earned success! They definitely walk the talk!

Have a great weekend peeps and never forget you have an amazing power within you to choose your attitude and perspective to anything you face in life…yup you ARE that powerful! Own it!

Dr. G





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Dr. Gloria Petruzzelli

Dr. Petruzzelli is a clinical sport psychologist, triathlete, and certified mindfulness meditation teacher located in Sacramento, California. She works with elite athletes and sports teams across the country. She is a competitive athlete and enjoys practicing yoga, spending time with her family, and traveling.

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