April 23rd, 2021
In a noisy world, a quiet mind is an oasis.
Running is a sport of simplicity that our world finds all too many ways to complicate. For the past few months I’ve been experiencing a lot of self-doubt, with the weight of my own expectations taking a toll on my running. I’ve been self-sabotaging by trying to force things to be a certain way. After coming back from an injury and committing to a long rehab process, allowing my body to heal properly during a fairly uneventful year in 2020, it’s taken awhile for me to feel like myself again. I took a growth-oriented approach to training and focused on gradually building my aerobic capacity. While I’m just beginning to reap the benefits of that training now, it was difficult to train over the past year in a way that did not show the visual signs of progress that I’ve become used to (i.e., hitting times, splits, paces, etc.). To add to this, I decided to embark on a 100-day break from social media, cutting off ties from the online world, and with it, the daily doses of dopamine and ego-boosting effects.
While my actions felt well-intentioned and like I was moving in a better life direction, I had no way to measure the progress I’d been making personally and in training. Ultimately, this lead to self doubt and questioning whether the changes that I was making were truly for the better.
Last week, I noticed things beginning to shift in a positive direction, on the track and in terms of my personal degree of happiness. The reason? Well, it could be simply the result of committing to the hard work in training and finally seeing improvement. But I believe that more of it has had to do with the mental approach that I’ve brought to training recently. An approach that involves having a quiet mind; focusing on the task at hand, in the present and nothing more.
In the following sections, I’ll break down some of the components that have helped me bring a much more quiet mind to training.
The first factor in this quiet mind involves acceptance. What I mean by acceptance as it relates to running is to accept the day for what it brings and to separate the results from the level of effort. As many runners will attest to, days when everything feels great and effortless are rare in this sport. When they do come, it feels like magic, but we can’t expect this magic to come everyday. By accepting that not every day is going to be perfect, but we can still put in the effort as planned, we avoid self-sabotaging and having our expectations weigh down our actions.
Another part of acceptance that relates to running as well as most things in life, is accepting discomfort as being an important component of change. Lately, before every workout, I’ve asked myself the question “What are you afraid of?” and I can never come up with an answer that justifies not doing the work. Lactic acid, tired muscles, and strenuous workouts, are all part of the process of becoming better. We achieve a quiet mind by minimizing fear and accepting discomfort as an inevitable component of change.
The next factor that I’ve found to be helpful in achieving a quiet mind relates to awareness. I am very grateful for the opportunity to train in such a beautiful place and I have no doubt that this environment has contributed to my relaxed and calm demeanour. Seeing the wildlife in nature, exploring new trails on runs, and overall, being aware of my surroundings brings me back to the present moment when my mind drifts to past or future thoughts.
More specifically to running, awareness can also relate to technique and form. In the tough moments, instead of attempting to distract myself from the pain, I try to remind myself to run tall and keep my head up. This awareness of how I am moving in the moment helps me to realize that I am in control, which frees my mind from spiralling out of feelings of uncertainty.
The third component in bringing a quiet mind to training has involved gratitude. Ultimately, this is about recognizing my own privileges which includes the opportunity to chase my goals and dreams despite living through a pandemic. I know that some people like to keep a gratitude journal or write down certain things that they were grateful for each day. If this works for you I think that’s a great practice, but personally, I like to internally remind myself of and recognize these things in each moment. Especially in the moments when my very small and first-world type of problems overwhelm my mind.
Even on what seems to be the worst of days, I can find something to be grateful for. Finding these things helps me to avoid labelling a day as “good” or “bad” and minimizes any negative thoughts or doubts that cloud my mind.
Last but not least, I’ve used motivation in achieving a quiet mind in training. To do this, each day I’ve been setting “A”, “B”, and “C” goals for the workout. The “A” goal would require stretching in order to reach it, while remaining reasonable and manageable. It’s typically either the pace that my coach has assigned or slightly faster. The “B” goal allows for a bit of a safety net. As I mentioned before, perfect days in running are rare to come by. The “B” goal accounts for the strenuous training that I am putting my body through and the multitude of other factors that come into play. Finally, the “C” goal is something that my coach always tells me on days when a workout is not going very well, that is, “maintenance”. The objective of the “C” goal is to always have something to continue working towards even if the workout isn’t going as planned. In other words, if you are not hitting the goal paces indicated in the “A” or “B” goals, the new focus is to maintain whatever pace you’ve established in the beginning, that your body feels more capable of on the day, that may avoid stretching too far and getting injured.
While it may seem like goal setting would require a lot of thinking and contradict a quiet mind, I construct my goals in a way that works with motivation rather than against it. By having a singular focus, I avoid negative thoughts and self-doubt that may appear. Even if I’m only hitting my “C” goal on the day, I can walk away feeling as though I’ve achieved my plan.
I think that it is important to give credit where credit is due. The factors that I’ve found have helped to achieve a quiet mind in training have largely been the result of self-discovery and trial and error. But, many of the strategies that I use to reach this mental state include meeting with a sports psychologist, reading, listening to podcasts, and other resources.
The following are some resources that have helped me, that anyone can access!
How to Eliminate Self Doubt Forever & The Power of Your Unconscious Mind | Peter Sage, TEDx Talk
In this TEDx Talk, Peter Sage talks about self doubt and how to reduce its negative impact. In my opinion, one of the most important points he makes is to “stop putting in the wrong things”, speaking to the ability of the media (i.e., social media, news publications, etc.) to control our thoughts and perceptions.
The Art of Impossible | Steven Kotler
In this book, Steven Kotler discusses why flow is a crucial component of peak performance and how we can all incorporate more flow into our lives.
The Beauty of Discomfort | Amanda Lang
Discomfort is necessary for meaningful change. In this book, Amanda Lang reviews why comfort is really the enemy and some of the mental strategies that we can use to embrace discomfort when things get difficult.
In our noisy world, a quiet mind can make a big impact on both performance and overall well-being. Hopefully, some of the things that I’ve shared that I am incorporating in my training can help you in yours, or in other aspects of life! The most important thing that I’ve realized is that there is no one strategy that works for everyone or on everyday; we are all unique and so is each day.