7 Ways of Thinking When Things Get Tough
In January I lined up with 27,000 people to run a half-marathon in Houston. I was wearing shoes purchased 22 hours before to the race and set to run 15km further than I had run in the last last 4 months. This was my first half-marathon on pavement and I knew it was going to hurt like hell (all previous races were on dirt trails).
How the heck was I going to finish 21.1km with new shoes and a lack of training?
Thirty minutes into the race the pain was intense. To get past the pain and finish the race I needed to adopt a resilient mindset.
Here are 7 powerful perspectives I used to complete the half-marathon:
1. Be Playful
Runners typically want to avoid large crowds of people. Most marathoners just want to put their heads down and grind out the next few hours.
I do the opposite. I find dense groups of people and look for ways to weave in and out of the crowd.
I see hordes of people the same way a kayaker sees white water rapids. I navigate my way through the terrain by looking for openings. When I see an opening I leap ahead, trying not to cut people off and avoid an elbow to the face!
This little game requires additional energy but it allows me to forget the pain I’m experiencing.
When things get tough – be playful.
2. Acknowledge Progress
As the race went on I started thinking about how long I had left to run and that left me feeling overwhelmed. With 5 miles to go and legs felt like jelly and I wasn’t confident in my ability to finish the race.
However, after running a few miles I had developed a nice rhythm. Each step seemed automatic, like a well-ingrained habit – I simply needed to get out of my own way and let it happen.
By letting my stride naturally continue I could simply observe the progress I was making. The last 100 yards seemed almost effortless with my new found rhythm.
Reflecting on the tiny progress I was making every 100 yards energized me and gave me the motivation to continue.
When things get tough – find your rhythm, reflect upon previous progress and let habit take over.
3. Gravitate to Others
When the pain became unbearable I ran next to a stranger. I simply got close to someone and matched their running stride. I let them dictate the pace.
Soon it felt as though they were carrying me forward with an imaginary forcefield around them. With their help I no longer needed to ‘will’ myself forward.
Along the way I internally thanked them for the help, by thinking: ‘thank you for being here and helping me!.’ If their pace started to waver I stay near them and encouraged them on by saying: “you got this, you’re doing great!”
When things get tough – gravitate to others who are moving in the direction you want to go.
4. Just Practice
At mile 8 I was completely exhausted. My mind desperately wanted to stop running and start walking. I knew if I started walking I would regret the lost time.
To distract my mind I started practicing tiny boxing jabs. I saw myself in a ring training for a boxing match. As I ran, I made small movements with my arms and wrists pretending to work on my jab technique.
At first this seem ridiculous since I don’t even box! But putting my mind in a ‘practice’ mindset (whatever form of practice it was), took my mind off the pain.
When things get tough – focus on practicing and refining a skill.
The Houston marathon had several DJ booths and bands on the side of the road. Whenever I ran by a DJ booth or marching band I felt a surge of energy that propelled me forward for the next half-mile.
When things get tough – put on some music. The right music can be a great source of energy.
6. It’s Going to End
Several times during the race I hit the ‘wall’: a feeling that you are completely out of energy.
Each time I hit the ‘wall’ I had to remind myself: “It is all going to be over soon. This will end.”
As venture capital investor Chris Sacca puts it: “Tonight I will be home in my bed.” (a phrase he repeated to himself while running his first Ironman).
Convincing yourself that the suffering will end gives you permission to endure more suffering.
When things get tough – give yourself a clear end date/scenario and remind yourself that the pain you’re feeling is only temporary.
7. Final Sprint
With 0.2 miles left and with the finish line in sight, I felt a surge of energy. The sight of the finish line inspired me to end the race with a full out sprint. The certainty that the pain would stop allowed me to tap into my reserves and finish strong.
When things get tough – make a final dash to the finish.
How did I do?
With those 7 marathon mindsets I ran a 7.4-minute mile and finished the race in 1:37 (my best half-marathon time). However, what mattered more than my time was realizing I had the tools to get through any difficult challenge.
Use these 7 mindsets to get past pain and conquer your next challenge.