Want To Overcome Mental Obstacles? Here’s How Marathon Runners Cope

By: Karmen Fox

I am a firm believer that sports psychology is integral to the workplace, even if I’m not much of an athlete. It’s not that I don’t like being active; it’s just that eye-hand coordination was never my thing. Forget about rounding a base in softball, it was a great game if I even hit the ball. So I ditched the equipment and stuck with running. One foot after the other. How hard could it be?

Enter: the marathon — 26.2 grueling miles that test every aching muscle. But you can’t run that distance on physical endurance alone. You need to have the mindset that you can and will cross the finish line. I was aware of that when I recently signed up my dad and myself for the Marine Corps Marathon.

It won’t be easy, but it’s a challenge I have accepted and am determined to finish. I’m not worried about the physical obstacles so much as I am the mental obstacles. Too often I fall victim to negative self-talk, whether it’s on the treadmill or at the office. “I can’t do this,” or “I won’t finish everything in time,” or the worst, “I suck.”

But once I get going, it’s hard to stop me. The rhythm of my feet hitting the pavement or my fingers clacking the keyboard drown out the negative talk. My mind is silent and the positivity flows. Instead of dwelling on the entire distance, I focus on getting to the next lap or that next paragraph. If I’ve gotten this far, I figure, I might as well keep going.

The smaller the goal seems, the easier it is to conquer. That’s when the voice in my head shifts from “I can’t do this” to “I can do this.” After struggling with negative talk for years, I’ve found that breaking projects up into small, manageable portions is the best strategy to achieve my goals. It makes that 26.2-mile run or 1500-word article seem less daunting.

Taking the day by storm

Even if you’re not racing toward a finish line, there are still plenty of mental obstacles to face in life or in the office. Here are ways to apply this mentality to your job.

  • Take small chunks. Set deadlines for each portion and hold yourself accountable to get it done. For instance, if you have a project due at the end of the week, create personal deadlines for each section until the project is complete.
  • Create to-do lists. I have a marathon running schedule to prepare myself for the big race ahead. It’s no different than creating daily, weekly, and monthly goals for yourself at work or in life. Writing it out and seeing it on your calendar or planner keeps you focused on your next step.
  • Ditch distractions. Sometimes they creep up on us, or sometimes we seek them out. Either way, you can avoid distractions to complete your goal.
  • Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’ll have days where no matter what goal-management strategy you use, you just can’t overcome some obstacles. Don’t let that throw you off track. I’ve had that happen to me recently, and here’s how I’ve kept pushing forward.

This past Sunday I went on a run with my dad to train for the marathon. We planned to run seven miles, but thanks to being dehydrated from Fourth of July celebrations the night before, I could only do two and a half miles.

“Two and a half?!” I said hopelessly. “How can I do 26.2 when I can’t even reach three without becoming weak and dizzy?”

I felt like a slacker in comparison to my dad, which isn’t hard. This is a man who regularly brought home trophies from races when he was my age and once ran 15 miles outside during a hurricane (I wish I were kidding about that last part).

I expected to hear the “get up and just push through it” talk from him, but I didn’t. Instead, he said something much more reassuring: “Every runner has days like these.” There were runs where he wanted to do 15 miles, but hit a wall at four and had to walk the rest of the way.

That relieved me. This was just one out of many days I have to prepare for my marathon, and there are more miles for me to improve. “We’ll try it again next weekend,” he said. “It’s all about putting one foot after the other.”

Originally published at blog.jaiwiz.biz on July 9, 2015. Head over for more tips on being authentic and awesome in your business.

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