We begin with a simple premise – Running is a good thing: It’s good for our hearts and it’s good for our heads!
Life can seem like a race – A sprint rather than a marathon – & we need to be on top of our game; focused, prepared and ready for the long haul.
We need to learn to pace ourselves (the sooner the better); build our stamina; develop our technique.
In Mindfulness the latter would mean developing a technique of being present and giving each and every moment our full attention. Whilst building stamina would be derived from an increase in our mental as well as our physical resilience, and the right pace would naturally flow from being “in the zone”.
These remain true whether for day-to-day living, going to work, or taking care of ourselves physically and preparing perhaps for that race – be that a 5K, 10K or the full nine yards of a Marathon.
And underpinning everything is being prepared and ready mentally.
As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind.
It was Aristotle who said, “We are what we repeatedly do”.
To make an enduring physical change we must “Do”; we must train and train. Whilst to make an enduring mental change we must also “Do”; put in the effort, but also be prepared to “Do” different.
Anders Ericsson who is regarded as one of the foremost researchers into high performance, makes the case that it is not inherited talent that determines how good we become at some thing, but rather and quite simply, how hard we are prepared to work at it and practice.
Whilst Malcolm Gladwell amongst others, has also made the point that it takes around 10,000 hours practice to achieve expertise, or unconscious competence, in a new skill.
Doing the Maths though that works out at 20 hours a week, 1000 hours a year, for 10 years.
Of course, we are not suggesting that as part of any mental or physical preparation you should or need to put in 10 years to realise your goals, but we think it is rather empowering that almost anything is within your grasp, if you work hard enough at it.
However, we do want you to be best placed and positioned to succeed, whatever your goal. So, at the end of this Blog we have some Top Tips that will help you to really focus and prepare for that next race, or how you approach daily life – Because how often are we just doing things in a semi-conscious state, almost as though we’re on autopilot?
It’s pretty normal for the Mind to wander. In fact, recent research suggests that our Minds are prone to wander on average 47% of the time, so no matter what the task we rarely, if ever, give anything our full attention.
There is a great Zen proverb that goes, “When walking walk, when eating eat”. Perhaps that should be extended to also say, “& when running run”! But picture the scene, with the weather dreich, cold, utterly miserable, it can become a bit of a chore to put in those miles. Or, life gets in the way – work or family stuff – and you feel shackled by mental chains and physically spent before you even get started trying something new.
It’s the ennui of modern life, and we’re all rushing here and there, “with nervous hands and worried minds”.
Mindfulness is simply paying attention to the present moment. To be fully aware and to know what is happening, while it’s happening, no matter what.
You can’t expect to get a six-pack after only one sit-up, but with as little as five minutes daily Mindful breathing practice for just eight weeks, you can begin to notice changes and benefits such as:
- Increased mental stamina and resilience
- Improved sleep patterns
- A marked reductions in feelings of stress and anxiety
- A stronger focus and greater mental clarity
- Better decision making
- Increased creativity
- Greater tolerance; &
- Improved relationships
And this is not magical or mystical stuff. Neither is it woo-woo. The science is now unequivocal and these changes are wholly obtainable!
The only way to ensure that you’re performing to the very best of your ability in whatever you do, is to leave the thinking behind and allow the body and the mind to work together with a combined physical and mental focus.
So, here are those Top Tips to help you do this:
- Be Present. Be fully, wholly, totally in the moment. Be aware of how you are feeling. Acknowledge any anxiety, or apathy. Equally acknowledge if you are feeling confident. However, just allow yourself to Be Present and accept that your thoughts are just thoughts.
- As you get ready for a training session, a race, for work, or a social occasion, allow yourself to notice all the physical sensations arising from everything you do, and be fully aware and present as you savour each in turn.
- Breathe deeply and allow yourself to focus on the breath – each rise and fall. Feel grounded, connected and strong in your own space and time. Acknowledge that your breathing is an anchor and as your mind wanders, as it invariably will, gently come back to this anchor of the breath – counting slowly in for six and out for seven.
- Be aware as sensations change within you and become aware of all that surrounds you – what you see, what you smell, what you hear – and bring to this newfound awareness a kind curiosity.
- Focus on your rhythm and pace in everything you do. When running be aware of how your body is moving, think of gliding and flowing with the whole body working together rather than the heavy plod of the legs. Relax your breathing so you are in complete control, lift your eyes from the ground to be aware of your surroundings and focus on some targets that you can work to and pass, almost effortlessly. Whilst in your relationships, at home or at work, give everyone you talk to your full attention and actively listen to what is being said.
- Be compassionate, both to your self and others. Also allow yourself to be grateful; for being able to run, for the people you are with, or the job you have. Gratitude precedes happiness and that in turn produces endorphins, giving a boost or wee lift to spur us on in whatever we’re doing – And finally,
- Remember less is more, quality over quantity. Paradoxically the more effort you expend whilst running, the more you tighten up, and so the more you slow down. This is also the case in our daily lives. Rather than single task, we multi-task and then miss things, or never do anything to the best of our ability. There is no need to compromise on you and there is also no need to give your self a hard time. Just be open and prepared. Be accepting and compassionate to yourself and you’ll notice that as you consciously slow down, things will become much easier.
I’ve co-written this post with Paul Mudd, bringing together our thoughts on Mindfulness, Running, Wellbeing, Well Doing and Life in general.
Paul Mudd is the author of ‘Uncovering Mindfulness: In Search Of A Life More Meaningful’ available on Amazon and the ‘Coffee & A Cup Of Mindfulness’ series.