May 10, 2020

Use Mindfulness To Bounce Back After A Tough Run


“Each morning we are born again, what we do today is what matters most.” – Buddha 

Though this is the kind of pleasant vaguery that you might stumble into on a Yogi tea bag, it contains a solid nugget of truth. The thing that actually matters, is now. And, you have the power to harness the potential and opportunity that comes from NOW, the present moment, through a building of presence and awareness that comes directly from developing a mindfulness practice.

Though it sounds simple, developing a mindfulness practice, acquire said “presence” and “awareness” and benefit from the NOW like never before. However, being present and aware is actually pretty hard. It requires a lot more cultivation, patience and self-acceptance than comes naturally to most humans. It takes work, but the good news is a lot of you are already doing it! 

What Is Mindfulness

Mindfulness, as defined by Daniel Siegel, M.D., Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA School of Medicine and Director of UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center, author of “The Mindful Therapist” as being conscientious and intentional in what we do while being open, receptive and aware of the endless possibilities that are present in the present moment without judgment of self or others.

Mindfulness In Practice

In training, this could mean taking time to reflect on a workout that didn’t go as planned to see what might have gone wrong. Were you tired? Did you push too hard? Were you talking negatively to yourself? Once you’ve taken a moment to reflect on what might have caused the workout to not feel as good as you’d have liked, take the productive pieces of learning with you for your next workout and simply let the rest go. Move on to the next training session anew and in a more receptive state of the fact that the next workout could feel great, fine or terrible, completely independent of how the workout went today.

Ok, that sounds way harder than described above, so let’s break it down. Here is an awareness exercise based on a training model. Let’s assume you just completed a 4 mile run with 4 x 20 sec hill strides. The run didn’t feel great and you’re frustrated.

Step 1: Spend a few moments trying to understand and listen to your body in order to uncover the underlying reason(s) the workout didn’t feel the way you had wanted. The key here is to analyze the workout without self-judgment. So, focus on avoiding negative self-talk while you objectively write down what your body is telling you. Whether it was sore legs, lack of focus, fatigue, hunger, motivation, etc..write those thoughts down without judgment and in a loving way (no negative self-talk). 

Step 2: Go back to the intention behind the workout itself. For example, the workout called for 4 easy miles with 4 x 20 sec hills hard. The underlying intention for the run was to complete the easy miles to support aerobic adaptation and to push hard on the hills to build top-end speed, strength and power. With as little self-judgment as possible, acknowledge that although the workout didn’t turn out in the way you wanted, you still completed the workout. Thus, hitting the underlying goal for the day and adding another brick to your training wall. 

Step 3: Take what you’ve written regarding why the run didn’t feel good, and look to see which things you could have controlled. For example, if you noted you were tired during the workout and you thought that was because you were hungry from skipping lunch, let’s make a note of that without judgment. Now, if you noted you were tired, and that the cause of that tiredness was a long day on your feet at work because your boss tasked you with more than you’re accustomed too or you expected, note that without judgment as well.

Let’s look at the difference between these two hypothetical causes of tiredness. The first cause of the tiredness, hunger from skipping a meal is something we can easily control. Even under the most difficult circumstances, we could almost always have a snack on hand to eat before a workout. So let’s grab this nugget of learning and take it with us to apply to our next training session.

We don’t have as much control over our working situations and environments. We are tasked with jobs that we must complete, regardless of how tired we are or what kind of workout we have later. This is a variable we can not control. Let’s acknowledge that we may need to adjust our expectations of our workouts after difficult days at the office or our jobs. We can take that nugget with us (aka, in the future, try to adjust our expectations of our training sessions when we are drawn out and tired from work). Here we will discard our natural inclination to attempt to control this situation, and lovingly accept it. 

Step 4: Look objectively, lovingly and with self-compassion at the reasons behind why the workout didn’t go well. Learn from the things you could control, like packing a snack to eat before the workout and acknowledge those things you couldn’t control, like your workload.

Step 5: Acknowledging the limitations of the things we couldn’t control and the positive learning from those things we could, gently let go, leaving the workout behind while taking the necessary learning from the moment forward with you on into the next moment or workout.

Mindfulness Everyday

You can use this exercise to build awareness around what lessons are useful, what variables are under your control and through this you can begin to actively let go of the rest and adjust your performance expectations for yourself in the process. No one masters this right away. But with practice, anyone can start to let go of things beyond their control, and focus on what they can do control to guide their actions and responses. 

At the end of the day, most things still fall outside of our control and  – that’s OK. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pursue things that are hard and challenging or want more, it just means we can give ourselves more grace and be a little less hard on ourselves while we work toward our big goals. By letting go of what we can’t control, we’ll be better positioned to seize opportunities in the moment. This process is hard, and it’s okay to struggle. But by working through some unhelpful expectations and negative self-judgments, we can be more intentional in our actions, more present and work towards becoming better humans overall. 

We can use this same exercise to develop awareness and receptiveness around the way we interact with others, our partners, family or friends, at work or wherever, because the process here allows us to over time through many examples like the one above, become more accepting of the things we can control and the things we can’t. This acceptance means we won’t be as attached to the moments that don’t turn out the way we want and this gives us the ability to transform and move forward to meet new challenges, obtain goals we never thought possible and shape our lives and the lives of others through greater awareness of our intentions and better quality of our actions.