I was drastically unprepared. The hot summer sun beat down on me as I made my way up the street. And though its incline was gradual, its effect on me was immense. Looking around for shade, I saw nothing but cars driving past. Cars with drivers likely thinking, That poor guy. He’s melting out there. Why would anyone run on a day like today? The sad part was, I was only about a quarter of the way there. To my final destination. To my endpoint.
And so my run continued. Up hill after hill after hill. Slowly gaining elevation. Slowly making my way along.
Eventually, after several hours, I made it. I completed my first half marathon. 13.1 miles. Prior to that, the longest I had run was maybe seven or eight miles. And that was only once. Yet on this day, I achieved something challenging with little training, planning, or preparation. I didn’t even look all that closely at the route I was to run (hence all the hills). It wasn’t easy, but I did it thanks to my positive self-talk: In speaking with friends who had run half-marathons previously, I decided that if they could do it, so could I. And so I did.
I ran my third half marathon on my birthday some year and a half later. I once again didn’t train, plan, or really even prep for it. Sure, I was in fine shape physically, but I wasn’t in a good state for long-distance running. Yet I went out and ran it anyway. If I could do that first half marathon, I could certainly do another one now. And so I did. It again wasn’t easy, but I did it. I did it because I believed I could. Because I told myself it was possible. And it was. Happy birthday to me.
You Can Do It
The examples don’t stop there though. A few weeks ago, I completed a 48-hour fast. Meaning I ate dinner on Sunday, then didn’t eat again until dinner on Tuesday.* It was surprisingly easy; I was never actually worried about it because I knew it was possible. I had recently finished a book detailing how to safely fast over prolonged periods of time. If they could do it, so could I. Unlike my half-marathon experiences, I was prepared for this. I had my beverages ready, my schedule filled with distractions, and my strategy for breaking the fast in a healthy way.
When the fast ended, I was barely hungry. In fact, I debated pushing it out a couple extra days but decided against it, not wanting our groceries to go to waste. Still, I did it. 48-hour fast complete. When I told people about it afterward, you could clearly make out surprise and confusion on their faces. “Wait, what? You didn’t eat for two days?” I’d reply, “Right. It was easy too.” Shocked, they’d look at me in disbelief.
Yet where they felt disbelief, mine had never wavered. I knew it was possible and continued to tell myself so.
That said, I did keep it a secret until after I had completed it. Otherwise, the doubts of others might have corrupted me. Instead, leading up to it, my self-talk was entirely positive. Having had fasted many times in the past (normally for 24-hours), I had a good feeling about tackling something longer. And knowing that made the experience that much easier. I was prepared, planned, and ready. But most importantly, I believed it was possible. Actually, not just possible, but that it would be easy. And that’s what I kept telling myself. This’ll be easy.
*I did consume a serving of spinach at one point. Not because I was hungry, but because I needed to take medicine and couldn’t do so on an empty stomach.
Combine Self-Talk with Preparation
Claiming that in order to achieve difficult things all you need is positive self-talk is overly simplistic and even dangerous. However, it would be inaccurate to say that it isn’t a factor in garnering success. Because while you may be prepared physically, if you aren’t prepared mentally, if you don’t feel that what you’re doing is possible, nothing else will matter. You need both. In fact, I find that one often leads to the other. For instance, knowing that I’ve done my research, have practiced beforehand, and know what to expect, makes believing in myself that much easier.
It makes my self-talk that much more specific and encouraging.
In the case of fasting, if I hadn’t been thoroughly prepared, I would have panicked when my stomach first started to growl. And who knows, I may have given up. But I didn’t. Instead, when it began to rumble, my self-talk kicked in. Ok, you knew this was going to happen. Go drink some sparkling water and ride out the wave. It’ll pass. You’re doing great. I encouraged myself to keep going in a loving, understanding, positive way. And thus, I kept going.
Now, I didn’t go into my first and third half-marathons as prepared as I could have, but where there was a lack of readiness, there was a surplus in belief. If they could do it, so could I. If I could do it that first grueling time, I could do it again. Doing the work – whether that means climbing a mountain, writing a book, or building a house – is important. Obviously. But just as important is the conversation you have with yourself.
Moving Forward with Self-Talk
How do you develop the kind of self-talk that allows you to do the impossible? In short, look around. Though what you’re trying to do may seem inconceivable, there is likely someone out there that has done it successfully. Find them, talk with them, learn from their experience. Then, let those findings serve as encouragement. If they could do it, so could I. Or better still, use your previous experiences to inspire you further: If I could do that first half-marathon, I could certainly do one now.
Last year I completed a little over one book a week. That’s more books than I thought possible for me to ever get through. But I did it. How? I did research. I found articles written by people that had done what I was after. From there, I learned from their experiences, made a plan, and took action. All the while, I told myself it was possible. If they could do it, so could I. And so I did. And so I still continue to do.
Telling yourself that something is:
- Or even easy, will make it that much attainable.
Doing the work is one half of the battle. Telling yourself (and believing) that it’s possible is the second half. To achieve extraordinary things, you need both. You can’t make a PB&J without the PB. Similarly, you can’t do the impossible without the physical and the mental. So get out there, look around, and tell yourself: If they could do it, so could I.