Monday, July 27, 2009

Mental Endurance/Positive Self-Talk

I was thinking about running the other day, while I was running, of course : ) I ran through a tough section in my run, relying almost entirely on positive self-talk. I have done this plenty of times, as I'm sure all the runners (and endurance athletes) reading this have as well. After accomplishing my goal and finding my run going much easier all of a sudden, I began thinking about how much of running is psychological. So much of running is pushing through the negative and twisting it into a positive. This must be why runners generally tend to be pretty good at combating negativity in other areas of life...they have trained for it.

So much of running is "all in your head". In the beginning, your mind is just getting used to this constant pitter pat of your feet on the pavement. You are essentially teaching your mind that you can run. Yes, of course, much of running is conditioning, getting out there, and training your heart, muscles, and lungs to pump harder and longer; however, I'll bet that if all runners who have been in the game for a bit look back, they will all realize that it is usually (especially in the beginning) your MIND that stops you from running before your body. You practically talk yourself into giving up...until you learn how to do the exact opposite.

You are on a five-mile run. It's gorgeous outside, but a little warm. You are upbeat and fall into a good rhythm almost immediately. Seemingly, all of a sudden, you fatigue and begin to get negative. Your thoughts sound a bit like this: "I want to stop. I need to rest. Am I overheating? Is this a gradual hill that I didn't notice? What's going on?! Maybe I should have eaten something/more. I don't have the energy for this. I should just stop for a few minutes and have some water to regroup. I need to walk right now." Most beginners would stop here; most seasoned runners, however, know that this is just a part of the process...I'm not saying that a seasoned runner NEVER gives in, but it takes much, much more.

The seasoned runner immediately attempts to "nip it in the bud" and thinks, "First off, be quiet you! You are NOT stopping. I will slow my pace and find that rhythm I had before pretty soon. I'm fine! I've got this! I've been worse off than this and pushed through...this is nothing! I'm gonna flip to that power song now and jam it out...tear this pavement UP! Whew! Let it go! Look around, love the process. I'm almost there! This will pass soon, just stick with it."

And you know almost always DOES pass. Even bettter than passing, usually the "other side" is so much "greener" than before the negativity tried to seep in. Now you appreciated that rhythm just a little bit more, you notice how pretty this particular stretch of road is; you love that power song just a little bit more; you love the run just a little bit more.

Most often, your mind will try and tell you to stop running, because it is used to giving up when the going gets tough (I know mine used to be and I still fall for it sometimes), but let me tell you...the more you DON'T give into that negative self-talk, the less often it will bother trying to stop you.

And this is why runners (and other endurance athletes) seem so well adjusted in other areas of life. Not only do they have those happy little neurotransmitters circling around in healthy doses up in their noggins, as I have talked about in previous blogs, but they have TRAINED their minds to deal with stress in a positive way. When the going gets tough, it doesn't really seem so bad anymore; it's nothing that can't be run right through.

"I just ran (so and so) miles the other day in that heat; I'm sure I can stick out this one hour meeting with my dumb boss." Your mind won't instantly want to flee's trained to run right through it to the other side.

When the negative self-talk begins, "I'm not prepared enough. He's never liked me. He's going to make this as painful as possible. Maybe I'm getting fired," a runner's mind knows how to handle this line of negativity, because it trained for combating negative self-talk every single difficult run (and difficult is absolutely subjective to the individual and to circumstance). A runner's mind just instantly jumps back to, "You're fine! You've GOT this! You've been worse off than this...this is nothing! Let it go! Look around, love the process! You're almost there! You know this will pass, just stick with it!"

Mental conditioning like this is cognitive therapy at its bst. It's all about taking CONTROL of your thoughts. They are in YOUR head and YOU have every right to control what is said. You don't have to be a runner to practice this, although endurance sports require a lot of practice with mental conditioning. Next time that you are wallowing in the downward spiral of negative self-talk, try to switch it to a more positive stream of thinking. It will feel completely unnatural at first, like you are "lying to yourself"; however, I assure you, as you practice speaking nicely to yourself, you will feel more deserving of the positive self-talk.

Negative self-talk breeds a negative self-concept. A negative self-concept fosters negative self-talk. It's the downward spiral I was speaking of. YOU have to take control of your mind and thoughts. YOUR mind is YOU talking to YOU...speak nicely...don't you have enough things spewing negativity at you?? Be your own positive fallback...your own refuge, because you have your mind and your body; when your body starts going, what are you going to have left: a negative mess pot or a clean stream of positivity??

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