Friday, November 20, 2015

The 3 Mental Mistakes that Limit You

Like learning to throw a ball or spear, swim, shoot a firearm, wakeboard, crotchet, or type 90 words per minute, there are certain basic principles that are helpful to understand.  My last two posts discussed the myth of maximalism and several resources that I used to learn improved running form.  Today I want to briefly go into three common mental mistakes that people make when they face change.  I often see these common slip ups in the world of health, fitness, wellness, and rehabilitation as well.

I believe this to be excellent spear throwing form.
While physical practice will remain an absolutely necessary part of your training or transformation, you may find that you need to drop some emotional baggage before this undertaking.  Maybe you've come to believe that you're not physically built like a runner, like a weight-lifter, like an awesome spear thrower.  Maybe you've tried and made attempts to improve some aspect of your life and have failed again and again.

Welcome to the club my friend.  Grab a name tag and a beverage of your choice while we mingle.

If you were to make a list of everything you believe to be true about your failures or about yourself, why this won't work (or may not work), you would quickly find how damaging carrying those beliefs into your new endeavor would be.  That is to say, how can someone move forward and have trust in their body, faith in their practice, and have hope that they will come out better when they are dragging opposite beliefs along for the ride?

Everyone feel sorry for this donkey.

The bottom line is you can't.  Or maybe you are superhuman and everything will still work out for you, but it's highly likely that instead you will burn out.  You'll give up before you get there if you're trying to move forward in the context of conflicting belief-systems.  Because eventually along the way you will meet a challenge, and if you meet that challenge and you haven't dropped that baggage, you might see it and think, "see, this is what I was saying!  This isn't for me.  I can't do this.  I'm not meant to do this."

When I undertook the hard work to retraining my running form, I first tackled my attitude towards running and the mentality that I held about myself over the past few months and years of failure. I had a lot of baggage from my repeated injuries, missing out on several amazing opportunities to race, missing out on what I thought was my own potential to run in the Olympic Trials some day, missing out on much of my sanity and happy-nature time.  It was actually eerily similar to the baggage someone might have after a failed there something wrong with me?  Why do I still love running so much when it hurts me?  Maybe I should never run again!  And we all know that once we've been hurt, things are never quite the same.  People have different reactions to a breakup and some find ways to better themselves, they learn the lessons without losing love for themselves, and they move forward with new hope.  It isn't easy but the alternative is to live less of our lives because we are afraid.

Prancing across chasms in the sunset.
Make it happen people.

Now to the bread and butter (or bacon and eggs if you prefer).  This is specifically how I changed my thinking before moving forward in training.

#1 - I stopped being fearful of pain.  For example...I did not "judge" or become angry when my body signaled pain, I simply thought, "this is valuable feedback from my body" and "if we work together we will figure this out together."  I thanked my body for the pain signal and believed that the communication would make me a better runner.  So often we run from our emotions, instincts, etc because there is discomfort involved in stopping and admitting that things aren't perfect.  That's totally okay, because for every human being on this earth, there are times and will be times that they experience pain, loneliness, anger, grief, anxiety,'s the fear of these emotions that have the power to stop us.

This could be YOU!

#2 - I turned all my negative self-talk into constructive self-talk.  What made this easier was not placing expectations on the outcome or limitations on how much better I could get or if my body could heal or not.  So this is really like two things I did that I naturally molded into one concept.  Think about it this way, if you are going to place expectations and limitations on yourself, you might as well do something in your favor and say, "it may take time but I am going to recover and be 110% what I was before" (or something like that).  I wanted to put all of my energy in healing, not in debating with myself.  This naturally lead to step #3.

Seriously, let that shit go.  Remember the poor donkey?

#3 - You have to believe that your body can heal (or change, or your situation can change, or you can get smarter, or whatever).  You have to believe that the body can adapt in a positive way over time by doing the right things.  What's interesting is it's not a hocus-pocus belief system.  The human body can adapt and does adapt over time to what we do.  Controlling and dealing with stress has been shown to improve survival in cancer patients.   Brain science has shown neuroplasticity in adults.  So instead of focusing on my failures I wrote down a few truths that I would instead focus on each day.  Things like, the healing process, which I understand well as a therapist, is occurring and will eventually heal my problem IF I do the right things.  By listening to pain, I will learn the right things to do.  If I do everything I must do to heal, I will heal faster (eat right, sleep well, control stress, etc).  Despite months of therapy and professional opinions guys and gals...when I started to think like this I began getting better in a matter of weeks.

After three months I was running 6 miles barefoot at a time without pain.
By month five I ran an ultra-marathon (albeit slowly with walk breaks).
I won a Spartan Beast (12.5 miles) at month six.
Month seven I ran a much faster mountain marathon (Pikes Peak).
I competed in the Spartan World Championships near month ten and performed well (14.5 miles).

But please understand this important key.  No matter how things changed, as success came, I never strayed from the principles that got me there.  If I had pain at month seven I didn't panic.  I remembered my principles and I followed them.  My body responded with a "thank you" and I continued to move in the right direction.  My focus has never been performance, the focus remains on the fundamentals.  Performance will manifest in its own time based on your ability to mentally be where you need to be each day.  It's the proverbial "cart before the horse" scenario.  Don't be afraid of success but always remember what got you there.

This is exactly what happens to every individual that has an injury.
I used simple models like this to remind myself that if I listen to my body
it will guide me through this process appropriately.

I'd failed so many times before because I didn't know any better.  But when you know better, you do better.  Give yourself grace and don't make those three very big mental mistakes.  What else can you think to add to this list?

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