I learn a lot of lessons when I run. Maybe it is because I am out there with nothing but my thoughts so I have time to think up crazy ideas and make irrelevant connections among things. Or maybe it is because when you run that far you reach a point of hallucination in order to get through it. Either way, I see a lot and learn a lot during my runs.
My latest realization came during a 16 mile race in the mountains.
When you are a good runner, you spend a lot of miles alone. No one to pace you. No one to push you. No one to challenge you. There are moments where there are few if any spectators around. If you are an exceptional runner, there is even more of this moments no one is around. There is always a time in the race when you are alone. That moment is what separates good runners from everyone else.
In that moment what do you do? You can stop and walk. No one would even know. Or, you can push, proving nothing to no one – except yourself.
I am not going to sit here and tell you I am an elite runner of any sorts. Far from it actually. I am pretty decent at it though. Typically I finish in the top 10% and occasionally I get lucky and win my age group of a small race. Never anything big. Being a good runner comes with its pains. Outside of the obvious physical demands most of what separates good runners from the average runners is mental toughness.
Mental toughness is a phrase that is thrown around in sports and I don’t think gets enough credit in everyday application. Mental toughness is hard to define but when you see it you recognize it.
It is pushing through the hardship.
Staying positive when there is nothing to be positive about.
Fighting the urge to quit because you know somewhere inside you there is something more to give.
When things get hard what do you say to yourself? Do you talk yourself up or down? Talking yourself up when no one else is, giving yourself support when external motivation is lacking – that is mental toughness.
Good runners are good because of their mental toughness. A marathon is a long race no matter how gifted or talented you are. At some point everyone wants to quit. It’s called the wall. And when you hit the wall you want to stop. You want to call it a day and say, “Eh, today wasn’t my day.”
It is not natural for people to run that far and put that much stress on the body. Pain is going to happen. Everyone finds the wall. It is how individuals respond to that pain that separates the levels of competitors.
I struggle with mental toughness. Mostly I am a good runner because I am mental. I am cerebral. I think – A LOT. This keeps me from thinking about the pain, being tired, needing water, or anything else around running for many many miles. By the time I get out of my own head, I have put in dozens of miles.
It never fails though. During a race, at some point I find myself alone. Typically this is when the wall shows up. No other runners in front or behind me for hundreds of feet. It is in these moments I get in my head and struggle with my own mental toughness. It is easy to run when you are racing another person. What is hard is racing yourself.
So how is this relevant to you?
Being better than yourself!
We get so caught up in competing with the neighbors that we actually do more harm than good to ourselves. The neighbors are running a different race. They don’t want the same experiences and life that we want. They have different goals and dreams. So, why then would we race them to their finish line?
You have to race yourself. And if you are going to race yourself you are going to find and hit head-on, that damn wall. When you chase a goal there is going to be a moment (probably many moments) that test your mental toughness. If you are going to be good at something or even elite at something, there are going to be moments when no one is in your view.
When you are out there on that journey all alone; no one to race, no one to pace with and no one to cheer you on, how do you respond?
If you are starting a business you will find your friends will not be the ones to support you. They typically want a hand out or are looking for how your new found glory can support them. They will say nice job here and there, but they will not be the ones there pushing you, giving you water, and cheering you across the line. You are going to have to find that inside of yourself.
If you are going to change your diet or fitness habits to get in shape there will be nights when your peer group is going out for drinks and pizza. You will have to make a choice. What is most important? You will have to tie up your shoes, put in your head phones and hit the gym all by yourself.
There is no glory in the process. In the middle of achieving your goals there is often times where you are alone. This is where your mental toughness comes to play. And if you are going to achieve, you have to be mentally tough.
Here are my tips for staying mentally tough when you feel alone:
- Connect with your High Emotional Value Goals – Is what you are doing going to give you the life you truly desire. If not why are you wasting your time? Make sure your actions align with where you want to go.
- Self Affirmations – Your thoughts directly impact your emotions and your physical body. If you are thinking self deflating thoughts or telling yourself you are incapable of doing something, you are going to weigh yourself down even more. Talk to yourself as though you are a motivational speaker. Hype yourself up and be your own cheerleader.
Something I do and teach regularly is the mirror fist bump. When you are feeling deflated or down, find a mirror, point at yourself in that mirror, tell yourself how good you look and you got this, then give yourself a fist bump. Trust me you will feel 100x better!
- Find a move – Tony Robbins teaches moves and incantations. Here is a video describing what he teaches. It works. I have a move that I do that drives my girlfriend crazy. But when I do it, I feel better. Here is a little taste. You are welcome!
- Reflect and Celebrate – Don’t get so caught up in the end goal and the process that you don’t recognize the progress you have made. Think about how far you have come and how much you have learned. Think about all of the things you have already overcome.
It is sad how many people will quit because they still have so far to go. You already came 90% of the way. You have so much left in you if you just take the time to be your own cheerleader.
If you are going to accomplish anything or chase any dream, there are going to be times when you feel alone. It is natural. Those that make it, those that achieve greatly are mentally tough. It is something that you must practice. No one will be around to see you stop and walk. But you will know. Will you be okay with that? Or, is there something more inside that you have to give? It is only you that will know, and only you that will reap the benefits of the effort.