At one time or another, we’ve all caught ourselves thinking something like, “I’m so slow” or “I should be running better than this” or “I’ll never be ready for the race in time!”
These seemingly minor put-downs actually have a big impact on your running, holding you back from reaching your full potential, can kill your motivation and take the fun out of running.
And it is supposed to be fun, right?
First off, it’s not your fault that you tend to dwell on what’s not working.
Oddly, your brain is wired to make you less inclined to engage in activities at which you feel you’ve already failed. But this perception of having failed—as real as it feels–is not based on your actual performance, so much as your fear of future failure.
Bad thoughts not only muddy the mind, they gum up our bodies, too.
Negative self-talk about your running creates physical tension and heaviness that further hinders running movements.
All this resistance of body and mind forces you to exert a great deal of effort to overcome these obstacles, which leads to running feeling like work instead of play.
Our brains are wired this way to protect us from humiliation that can happen when we push ourselves. But as runners, we don’t want to stay the same. Rather, we want to bust through our perceived limitations and become better.
So what do you do?
Mindful running is the means by which you re-write the negative script to one that is positive, motivating and more effectively reinforces healthy training habits.
Step 1. Focus on the process of running rather than desired outcome.
Judging yourself as being too slow, lazy or not good enough arises from comparing how you are now to how you want to be in the future.
Running mindfully shifts your attention from future outcomes to the process, or experience, of running.
Even when running feels hard or uncomfortable, it can still be a positive experience because it’s part of the journey toward your goals.
To determine the degree to which process influences your likelihood of success in reaching your goals, researchers Ayelet Fishbach and Jinhee Choi collaborated on a series of experiments comparing the efficacy of exercise as being instrumental to achieving an outcome (like losing weight, which is an external reward) and versus being experiential (which offers internal rewards like pleasure).
Their results, which were published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, determined that focus on running’s experiential qualities led people to exercise for considerably longer and more consistently.
Why? Because they enjoyed it more. Those who enjoyed the process more were more successful at reaching their goals.
Step 2. Take control of your mind’s negative script.
Moving your body in a rhythmic way soothes the mind. Synchronize your breathing rate to your movements, and there is an even greater coherence and flow throughout the body, which is very effective for slowing the mind’s constant stream of thoughts, most of which are your default negative scripts.
First relax into a consistent and comfortable cadence with your run stride, then notice your breath. Is it following your footsteps, steady and coordinated, or is it rapid, ragged or otherwise out of sync? Try not to force it, rather, allow your movements and breath to coincide naturally.
You’ll know when your inhalations, exhalations and footsteps are synchronized when it feels natural, not forced and your mind is clear and uncluttered.
Step 3. Compose a new positive script to replace the old one.
What feelings do you associate with a great run? And what words best describe those sensations? Some common ones I’ve heard from women who attend our mindful running retreats include: “strong, flowing, steady, easy, fun, powerful, adventurous, brave, determined, awesome, sweet.” What words resonate with you?
Then use these words to craft a mantra or statement that replaces your usual negative script.
So when that old script starts to play in your mind, you can swap out statements like: “Ugh, I’m so slow!” with ones that support your intended feelings, such as: “I am steady and relaxed.”
See how your body responds to your new, more positive script; I think you’ll be pleased with the shift it creates.
WARNING: This process is powerful for cultivating TRUST in yourself for developing a deeper sense of self awareness, which helps you feel confident that what you’re doing is right for you in that moment and effectively moving you closer to your goals.