“Everyone on social media knows I was doing this race and now I feel so embarrassed. What do I say when they ask me how it went?” — Anonymous DNF athlete
“I totally failed. Everyone will think I am such a loser.” — Anonymous DNF runner
“I worked so hard and it was all for nothing.” — Anonymous DNF runner
I’ve heard all of these statements in one form or another, pretty frequently from athletes that DNF. What does DNF mean? DNF stands for “did not finish,” and is not an uncommon occurrence for athletes of all ability levels. It happens at every level of sport and in almost every sport.
However, when it happens to us we feel as if we were the only person in the world that has DNF’ed and that the whole world is watching as it happened. Why does this happen? It’s called the "spotlight effect" which refers to the tendency to think that more people notice something about you than they do. Which means we overestimate how much other people notice our failings or shortcomings than they actually do.
With the right mindset and awareness, we can learn to not fear or be ashamed of the DNF.
Here are four tips on how to combat fearing the DNF:
1) Acknowledge and radically accept the DNF.
It is not what you wanted. It is not what you asked for. It sucks, but here it is and you must be the one to prioritize and deal with it. Radical acceptance does not mean you like or want the “thing” to happen, it means you let go of fighting the reality of what happened. You let go of the belief “this should not have happened” and you accept your situation for what it is. When you do that you are in a better position to assess your race or competition performance.
2) Be non-judgmental but honest with yourself about how you got to this point.
Ask yourself, “What was my body trying to tell me?” “Was there anything I would have done differently?” “Did I make a choice or have to DNF because something out of my control?” This approach will help you understand and evaluate in an objective manner and possibly prevent this DNF from occurring again. But sometimes sh*t happens. For example, if you stumble on something along the race course and break your foot, acknowledge that too. It was totally out of your control and move on.
3) View “failure” as feedback.
Everything in life is feedback. The definition of feedback is “information about reactions to a product, a person's performance of a task, etc., used as a basis for improvement.” We prefer good feedback, like finishing a race on our target pace. However, the reality is that there is ALWAYS something to learn in every situation, especially running, and our lessons don’t always come neatly packaged with a finisher's medal. So if we learn from a DNF and think of it as a basis for improvement, then it was not a wasted experience. If running and competing is a lifelong activity then one, two, even ten more DNF’s cannot define you.
4) After you’ve done all of the above….MOVE ON!
Take personal responsibility and processes what went well and what went “wrong” then let it go. Meaning no more talking about it, rehashing it or ruminating on it—not to yourself or others. Letting go is really important because that means the memory of it can no longer hijack how you feel about yourself. You’ve learned from it, got what you needed and now it’s time to move on baby! Letting go allows you to live in the present. And guess what? The DNF is done, dusted and in the past.
“You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don't try to forget the mistakes, but you don't dwell on it. You don't let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.” — Johnny Cash