You’re on mile 16 of the marathon.
16 down, 11 to go.
Wow, this sun is a killer, you think to yourself as you take a swig of water. It’s hot out. Hotter than it should be for this time of year. And sunny too. Insanely sunny. It’s hot and sunny and you’re tired. Sure, you trained for today, but this will be your first time doing the full marathon.
And it’s exhausting. Both physically and mentally.
The runner’s mindset
You feel it in your thighs first, the fatigue. It makes its way down to your calves, up to your arms, your neck, your lungs. You check your pace. I’m going too slow.
Off in the distance is the shimmer of runners further ahead.
A mirage of heat, bouncing off the road on this too hot of a day. You begin to slow down, and down, and down. I need to speed up! Like a wounded animal releasing its last remaining stores of adrenalin, you manage to surge forward.
The mirage gets clearer.
You see the runners ahead of you. Ha! I’m going to pass them! That’ll demoralize ’em! But just as soon as you approach, they pull away. It’s not that they started going faster though, it’s that you started to slow back down.
When it all breaks
Mile 21, only a handful left.
Your mind is yelling at you: Stop running! Just for a second! Let’s rest for a moment! You fight the urge with every breath, every blink, every step on the road. The runners ahead of you are now way ahead of you. Your mind is filled with doubt.
And then, suddenly, you stop.
You didn’t intend to stop running. You know that by doing so you miss out on the goal you set for yourself. Yet there you are, not running. Tired, limping, hoping to regain your strength so that you can finish the race at a decent time.
The exhaustion of striving
Derek Sivers, author and entrepreneur, was on the Tim Ferriss podcast awhile back. On the show, Sivers explained how he used to ride his bike along the boardwalk. And each time he did so, he sprinted, trying to beat his previous record.
But this was ultimately exhausting and he was burning out from the activity.
So one day he decided to take it easy. He would still ride along the boardwalk, but instead of sprinting or going at max-force, he would take his time. He would enjoy the ride and have fun with it. For the sake of curiosity though, he decided to time himself.
Fun is greater than sprint
When he finished his leisurely ride, he checked the time. To his surprise, he completed the fun ride in only a few minutes longer than the sprint ride. To the point where the times were fairly comparable. 40 minutes versus 45 minutes, let’s say.
The lesson, he explained, is that you can often take your foot off the pedal and still get to where you want to go in the same amount of time.
Instead of destroying yourself, you can enjoy yourself. Because, in the end, the result is the same. *If you’re interested in listening to the whole story, check this out.
The strength of mind
In books like The Power of Your Subconscious Mind by Joseph Murphy, the point is made time and again that your mindset can and will determine your reality. Whether in the case of our marathon runner who doubted herself, or Derek Sivers choosing fun over sprint, mindset is critical in attaining your objective.
In other words, the things you tell yourself are what you bring about.
If you doubt yourself – your skills, your form, your preparedness – you will lose the mental battle. Much more so than someone that is resolute in their self-belief.
How to get into a better headspace
The big question is, then, how can you get into a better mindset? Well, a simple way is through gratitude. It doesn’t have to be much. Just a few minutes is likely all you need in order to receive the benefits.
For instance, one of my current goals is to spend at least five minutes each day thinking of things I’m grateful for. The reason being that:
“Thinking of what you’re thankful for helps to neutralize any negativity that you’re experiencing. In turn, this opens you up (consciously and subconsciously) for more positive things to occur in your life; much like a captain raising morale amongst the crew.” – a passage from my Now page
The case for gratitude
In theory then, by practicing gratitude you strengthen your mental resolve, thus achieving your goal that much easier.
After all, winning the mental battle is as important, if not more so, than doing the actual work itself.
If you don’t believe you can, you won’t. If you believe you can, you will. Gratitude is one way to repel negativity and enhance your mental fortitude. In turn, the stronger the mind, the easier it will be to get the result.
To stay in the game.
Mile 16, once again
Let’s return to our marathon runner. Back at the mile 16 mark. Instead of concerning herself with the heat, with discouraging her “rivals,” or feeling the pain surging throughout her body, she thinks of the great things going for her.
How lucky she is to have a body strong enough to pursue such a challenge.
How fortunate she is for the clothes on her back, the shoes on her feet, the food and water in her backpack. For the money in her bank account, the car that she paid for in cash, for the home that she loves.
And so on.
Winning the mental
She still feels the overwhelm of the sun, she still sees the runners ahead, and she still recognizes the pain in her body, but it doesn’t hurt as much. She still experiences the need to walk, but the voice isn’t as loud.
Through her gratitude, she shifts her mindset into one of positivity instead of negativity.
And that’s all she needs to keep going. Because, recall, she trained for this event. Her body can do it. It’s only a matter of keeping her mind strong. And it is. She inevitably passes the runners ahead of her. All the while, she thinks of how thankful she is to be competing against such amazing athletes that push her to be better.
Mile 17 passes. Then 20. Then 22, 23, 25. She sees the finish line. Only a few more steps. Only a few more steps. Almost there. She crosses the line with a smile on her face.
She did it. And so can you.