Running is a pastime loved by many and despised by others. But one thing is objectively true, running is a great activity for your physical, mental, and emotional health.
Many beginners struggle to get into the habit of running or can’t seem to maintain the resilience to continue. At the core of these shortcomings lies mental strength.
There are many ways to improve your mental strength while running. It all depends on which method works best for you, whether it be meditation, visualization, or affirmations, everyone uses their own personalized tools to strengthen their mind while running. And you can too!
People tend to have the misconception that running is all about the physical aspects, but many would argue that the mental side is more significant. Many have not considered the fact that running is not only about building physical endurance but the process of building mental strength.
Let us take a look at some tips and tools one could use to help grow this mental strength so that you can turn running from a chore into a hobby.
There is no denying that the first couple of runs may be tough, and they will test your resilience to continue. But you will slowly discover that the runs get easier, as you need less willpower to get started, and less mental exertion to keep going.
This is because we are creatures of habit. The first few times trying something new is uncomfortable, but eventually these acts become second nature and we even feel odd if we don’t do them, like brushing our teeth or making our beds.
None of the things that we now do without thought, came naturally. They all took mental strength to get started and became easier the more we did them. Running is no different. So once running becomes part of your routine, you’ll be on your way to becoming a running enthusiast.
Many of us are our own worst critics. As soon as we fail to live up to our unrealistic expectations, we call it a day and head home. Negative self-talk will annihilate any willpower needed to continue running.
For many of us, this self-talk kicks in as soon as we begin to feel uncomfortable. It will creep into your mind when you begin but don’t let it! Be your own biggest fan and talk to yourself like you would to a friend that you are trying to encourage.
Do your best and don’t beat yourself up. Time and distance don’t matter, the most important thing is building the habit, so pat yourself on the back for just pitching up.
We already mentioned that our expectations can be wildly unrealistic, which is why it is important to set realistic, achievable, incremental goals. Don’t compare yourself to people around you. It isn’t a race and you shouldn’t expect to be able to keep up with those who have been running for longer than you have.
Set your own goals and try to stick to them. If you miss a few targets, it’s fine, forgive yourself and encourage yourself to continue. A great way to set goals and build habits is by setting incremental goals.
If getting started is a real problem for you, set your first goal at a target that you can easily hit, then increase this target every time you run. You will soon get into the habit of running as well as achieving your goals!
Visualization is a tool used by many top athletes and performers. It is essentially imaging the best possible outcomes or occurrences, and then trying to perform like those circumstances will take place.
Picture yourself beating your personal best, and try to feel the sense of achievement that you would feel. Or imagine going on a run and loving every second of the experience. Visualize the best possible scenario and try to capture what that would feel like.
This won’t manifest these visualizations, but it will help them to occur, as you will have the right mindset and attitude necessary for those events to transpire. This will give you a massive boost of confidence, positivity, and mental strength.
Meditation has become a buzzword nowadays, and I am sure that you are familiar with it by now. But if you have not experienced the benefits of meditation, or only have a vague mental picture of someone performing it, then let me elaborate.
Meditation can mean many things and can be performed in multiple ways. I like to think of it as using my awareness to focus on a specific object or sensation. So while you are running, try to be aware or mindful of something like the rhythm of your breath, or the sensation of your feet hitting the floor.
Don’t try to think, just maintain the awareness of whatever you are trying to focus on and let your mind run. You will eventually feel a sense of calm, and the negative self-talk and emotions will die away.
You will forget the rest of the world and just focus on being aware of your experience, and not your thoughts. Thoughts can be the biggest obstacle for runners so meditation can be a great way to build up the mental strength not to listen to them. Meditation is a great tool for running and vice versa.
Similar to positive self-talk, in the sense that you are focussing on positive thoughts and choosing to listen to them, but instead of countering the negative self-talk that pops into your head, affirmations are about repeating a positive word or statement until you begin to feel as if it is true.
If you are skeptical, give it a try. It will feel strange and perhaps even pointless initially, but after a while, you’ll start to believe what you’re saying. You are forcing your mind to accept and process this thought which will lead to the creation of positive emotion. These emotions and feelings will give you the boost you need to mentally push through tough times.
Music can elicit emotion in most of us, so why not harness this power for running? Music can make you want to get up and dance (a form of exercise) and it makes you want to sing or shout. Music gives us energy.
Usually, upbeat music is preferable for exercise, as it will make you want to work out at a higher intensity. Music also keeps the mind occupied so that it does not wander and begin to focus on things such as fatigue and distance remaining.
Podcasts are another great way to keep the mind distracted if you are looking for something more mentally engaging.
Like meditation, music can also remove a sense of time and thought from your exercise. This 2020 study on ScienceDaily demonstrates that music increases the benefits of exercise for physical fitness and reduces the perceived effort involved.
Where you run matters. You want to run in a location that you feel safe, comfortable, and content to be in. You should remove as many barriers between you, and the act of running, as you can.
A negative environment, such as a shady gym or a dodgy neighborhood, can be a major deterrent. This can increase the amount of willpower and mental strength needed to even get started.
Exercising outdoors and being close to nature also have major benefits. According to this 2019 study on ScienceDirect, it was found that exercising outdoors created greater feelings of “revitalization and positive engagement” as well as decreases in tension, anger, and depression. So exercising outside is a great way to energize your mind and body.
Whether it be a friend or personal trainer, having someone support you when you need it can provide great encouragement and motivation. Having someone else verbally counter the negative self-talk in your head can give you the strength to push through discomfort.
It is important to choose the right type of teammate. They should be kind, patient, empathetic, and encouraging. A toxic teammate will deplete your mental strength, not increase it.
It also helps to exercise with someone at a similar fitness level to you. This can add a little bit of healthy competition and keep you both performing at your best.
Having someone to run with makes it easier to commit to a schedule, and can make the act of running more enjoyable. These factors will decrease the mental strength needed to get going.
There is nothing that motivates us to do something like a worthwhile reward. We live in an age of instant gratification, and no longer have to run after our food to get the reward of eating it. But people are still wired to be driven by rewards and incentives.
This can be used to our advantage. By incentivizing yourself to go on a run, by rewarding yourself at the end of it, you will give yourself increased motivation and purpose. Make the reward a worthwhile and preferably healthy one.
The utilization of rewards to build habits first came to my attention in Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit and I still find it extremely useful today. Not only will the reward be satisfying, but the sense of achievement will be even more so.
Starting a new activity isn’t always easy, especially one that is physically and mentally as running. But there are ways to build your mental strength so that running becomes a joy, not a burden. It is definitely worth pushing through the mental barriers in order to make running part of your life, your mind and body will thank you for it.
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