Mindfulness Can Teach Us We Have Options: How That Can Help Your Running

March 5, 2021
“A clear mind, leads to better judgement, leads to a better outcome.” - Naval Ravikant

Mindfulness is super trendy. And for good is extremely useful in a multitude of ways. Stability and the ability to ground yourself is a necessary precursor to tackling difficult tasks. Marsha Linehan is the mother of Dialectical Behavior Therapy, a branch of cognitive therapy that has been used for decades in mental health practices. Mindfulness is one of the cornerstones of DBT, and the goals of mindfulness are outlined concisely and directly. Let's take a look at what DBT, with a foundation of mindfulness, allows us to understand:

In any given situation, you choose your behavior based on the following options:

  1. Solve the problem by changing the situation…avoid, leave, get out of the situation.
  2. Feel better about the problem - change or regulate your emotional response to the problem.
  3. Tolerate the problem - accept and tolerate both the problem and your emotional response to the problem.
  4. Stay miserable! - or maybe make it worse.

(per Linehan, DBT Skills Training Manual)

Option one involves the pursuit of control, something which is rarely always feasible. The weather, the racecourse, or competitors are a few examples of things we cannot control. We often get caught up in trying to manage items outside our control instead of focusing on the few items within our realm of influence. Maybe the problem has nothing to do with running, but sometimes running is what helps us solve the problem by giving us space to get away. Sometimes running is the freedom we need to leave a situation. Know that mindfulness is not avoidance. Sometimes giving yourself mental space, and a mental break is exactly what your brain needed in order to discover the solution.

Option two involves your emotional response to a stressful situation. During a long run, a workout, or a race, we may experience negative feelings. Learning how to manage your feelings and respond to the present moment can help improve not only your running but your resilience in any situation. Part of being mindful is developing the ability to overcome difficulty and manage how you feel, and it all starts with awareness.

Acceptance is the third option in DBT. Learning to accept the current situation in order to better tolerate it and peacefully move through is helpful in allowing you to overcome and continue to perform at your best. Running a marathon will undoubtedly have some dark moments. Once those moments present themselves, it is important to accept where you are and what you are feeling, no matter what the content, in a nonjudgmental way. Instead of judging what you are experiencing and shoving it away, embrace the pain and accept that it is real. It will be tough, but you are too.

You get tougher by training your mind to acknowledge the pain and then move through it. Practicing your ability to accept and move through is like giving yourself a flashlight to keep in your back pocket for that moment when you realize the dark pain cave is upon you. That flashlight will help you find your way back. You can accept it, tolerate it, overcome it, and be at peace with it.

The final option is making the choice to do nothing. This will likely result in more negative feelings, longer duration of negative feelings and rumination, and is highly unlikely to have a positive outcome. But it is still your choice to stay in the pain and to live in the misery. I hope you don’t choose this option.

“Mindfulness is a practice that leads to acceptance. It's not like eating a snack to rid yourself of hunger but eating every day so as to not starve to death.” - Allie Caminiti

You might be wondering how to cultivate mindfulness in your own life; read on!

Here are 5 things to start today.

1.  Notice your breathing while walking (or running) to determine the length of your breath based on the number of steps you take. Lengthen your exhale and count the number of steps you take, don’t lengthen your inhale. After 20 breaths, return to the normal breath.

2.  Imagine that your mind is the sky and each thought is a cloud floating by. Allow the clouds to drift in and out of your mind without holding onto them. ( great while running solo)

3. Sit outside and watch what happens around you without creating narratives about what is happening.

4.  When cooking or eating, breathe in the aroma. Notice each spice and ingredients. You can also do this while showering, while walking outdoors, etc.

5. When you’re stressing/worrying about something (race, pace, goals, etc.) move your attention from your thoughts to your body.

Gratitude is another great tool to practice in order to get the most out of training and life. Check out these specific ways to incorporate gratitude into your mindfulness and self-care routine.

— Allie Caminiti

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