For today’s post, I’m going to center on the four principles of mental toughness and how we apply them to running. The Still I Run community is based on the premise of forming a running community to empower people to take charge of their mental health. That comes through both having a team of people to fall back on as well as taking the right actions for yourself and with your running to improve your mental health.
“The world is chaotic and unpredictable, but destiny favors the prepared.”
Background about Me
So I’ve been in the endurance running game for years and I’m used to applying these same disciplines into my training runs and events. Some of these events last up to 50 hours at a time. The lack of sleep, physical taxation, and mental challenges we check at the door is something a lot of us can relate to conceptually, even if they are managed at the extreme level in that case. It requires us to utilize certain intrinsic skill sets that allow us to help manage our mentality to keep our foundation grounded and in a better position to execute and thrive while we’re on our mental health journeys. These skills are Breathwork, Micro-goals, Positive Self-Talk, and Visualization.
Breathwork is a complex and diverse topic where there are multiple ways to implement how we utilize the ‘pranayama” or breath that we often take for granted as such a subconscious part of our existence. Our psychology and physiology are very intertwined. When we’re stressed, either mentally or physically, our breath responds in kind. By taking control of our breath, through systematic, strategic breathwork, we can redirect and control that stress response to be better managed. We won’t eliminate the cause of a stressor, but we’ll be in a better position to control our reaction. Nostril breathing, box breathing, “warrior breath” are all strategies that collapse our focus into the moment and allow us to regulate our stress response. Control your breath and break that cycle of “being out of control” of your body. Controlling your breath on a run can allow you to center yourself and keep the stress response of physical activity in check.
Microgoals allow us to take big tasks down in little bite-size chunks. Think about running a marathon. Twenty-six miles can be aggressive. One mile? Not so bad! If one mile seems tough, then settle on a half a mile. If a distance in your head feels tough, just focus on the next step. Build your confidence and present moment by moment awareness by collapsing into the immediate actions that will assist you in stepping forward with your event or training run. Got a project? Studying? Don’t focus on the big picture. Take it down in bite-size chunks. You’ll eventually build momentum and snowball your willpower into directions that allow you to wear away at any goal instead of intimidating yourself with your ambition.
Positive Self-Talk seems easier in concept than it is in practice. It’s not hard for our ego-driven brains to instinctively veer towards doubt, insecurity, worry, or despair, especially when pressed. Most people don’t need to regulate themselves when things are all going according to plan. It’s when things go off the rails and things get challenging that we need to remind ourselves of the positive elements of ourselves and the situations we find ourselves in. You’ll also notice that when you continue to practice gratitude, jazz yourself up, and be your own hero, you’ll have a more profound impact on your performance. Your physiology will respond by slowing your breathing and acting with a more parasympathetic response. Not to mention, you’ll just have more fun. It’s not easy, especially when we’re predisposed to worry about what we can’t control and kick ourselves for what we lack. Give yourself credit. Literally.
Visualization is so key to keeping your head in the game, both short and long term. Many people who struggle with mental illness find themselves in a rut, where they don’t see a way out of their cycle of “negative feedback loops” they are stuck in. This lack of faith in the future comes from a lack of hope. And the antidote to apathy is faith. When you can see the outcome, that your efforts will prove fruitful, you’ll take the steps needed to fill the gaps between where you are and where you want to get to. The absence of that belief will lead to “learned helplessness,” a present moment where you just don’t believe there is a point to the actions you are taking. So help yourself out. Picture yourself happy, fulfilled, engaged, and present. See yourself crossing the finish line, with that crisp autumn air, the roar of the crowd, the pounding of your Asics across the finish line of your race. Stack the deck in your favor and claim the future you deserve.
Bringing it Together
With all of these cues, and techniques, you’re going to be in a much better position, both while on a run, at a race, in training, and in your life to help preserve the conditions that allow you to be the most mentally prepared and equipped to take on the trials and tribulations that life, running, and mental illness can lay on your feet. Take those steps to help yourself the most.