Friday, February 16, 2018

How to trick yourself into doing something difficult and loving it

Today I woke up with this feeling that I wanted to run hills today, and I wanted it to be a long run. I visualized what that would look like: What trail would I be happy on? What would that journey look like? And then I went out, knowing I was going to hammer out a minimum of 8km, but with a goal of 10km, starting at the end that has the greatest rises and falls in elevation. How did it go?

I did it. Of course I knew I would because I've play this same psychological game with myself every single run. The game is:

How to trick myself into doing something difficult and love it. 

Step 1: Figure out what your goal is. Listen to your body and your emotions and figure out what it is that you need. I have some days where I need to challenge myself with hill training. I have other days where I want a flat and easy path. I have days where I want a long but slow run where I can take my time, not caring about speed, but only the distance.

There are times I want solitude, and other times where I don't mind running into other people. There is typically an option for every mood and every need. If you're not a runner, that doesn't matter - you can still follow these steps for whatever your workout activities and goals are.

Step 2: Visualize the activity. Steps 1 and 2 can actually occur at the same time. It may sound hippie-dippie but the psychology behind visualizations are extremely important and lead to more positive outcomes. Before any run, I literally go through in my head what that experience is going to look like. I picture myself on the trail, moving along, in each section, hills, valleys, areas that have uneven or difficult terrain... everything. If I'm not satisfied that a particular route will be fulfilling for me that day, I try another route or another trail and see if that fulfils my goal. But the practice of mentally going through the route/routine prepares me for what I'm about to do.

Once I've made my decision and set my goal, it's set. Time to get ready.

Step 3: Get your gear on and make sure you're prepared. This step involves what I consider to be the "point of no return." Once I'm in my workout or running gear, there's no way I'm not going out. Even if it's pouring rain out, I know I'll still be glad I made the effort and got out there, but I'll dress appropriately for the weather. In this case, it also helps to visualize finishing your goal. For me, that means a yummy protein shake waiting for me at the end, a nice hot shower, warm fresh clothes and then a really awesome big meal (typically breakfast), all that will accompany my sense of accomplishment, feeling strong, and a runner's high. It's a pretty epic deal.

Step 4: Be comfortable being uncomfortable. Exercise isn't always going to be easy. It's not suppose to be. That's the whole point: you're training your body. But this is also an exercise in mental strength as well. Get yourself into a groove, relax your body where you can, and hold strong the areas that require your power (ie. for running, it's my core and hips that I hold strong, while my upper body is relaxed.) During the tough spots, tell yourself not to quit. You can quit if you want to... a lot of people do... but that doesn't have to be you. Can you go another minute? Another 5 minutes? Longer? Do you need to quit, or are you just tired of being uncomfortable? This is the game I play in my head: realizing that I don't need to quit yet. Get comfortable in your stride, get comfortable in your body, even though you're working hard! Then once you achieve your goal, you'll feel huge sense of pride and accomplishment.

Step 5: Always take that moment after you finish a workout or run to appreciate what you just did. Savour that moment. Stretch out your body and feel every single muscle. Feel your breath, and just how easy it is to breathe again. Enjoy every aspect of what you just did, and give yourself a high-five (not kidding, I do it all the time... when no one else is around or looking). Remember how good this feels. That way, next time, you can reflect back on this experience and let that be a driving force for repeating steps 1-4.