Have you had a recent moment of the conversation you were having with yourself was so loud you couldn’t even hear someone talking to you?
Of course you have. Those self-exchanges can be fantastic or horrible, distracting or helpful... and if you're not careful, consuming. Yet sometimes they're worth engaging, in order to get to your best next iteration.
(While you may or not be a runner, you can fill this in with a situation where you know you could do the same thing…)
I love my running time. Yet... a few minutes into my run this morning, I just wasn’t feeling it. For a full minute (yes, I clocked it), I had an internal debate with myself-
Me: I don’t want to do this.
Other me: Too bad. Do it anyway.
Me: I’m tired and already breathing too hard- this is going to be a slow, rough run. I worked out really hard yesterday and the day before. It’s completely overcast and there aren’t even any good clouds to focus on. Maybe I should take this as a sign that this should be my day off.
Other me: No. Shut up. You got a rare 8 hrs of sleep last night- you’re fine. It always smooths out after the first 5 minutes. Keep going! You’ll be happy you did when you’re done.
Me: Ugh. That’s true. I can do anything for 5 minutes, right? Some first-five-minutes are rougher than others, but it always gets easier after that. Okay- I’ll clock it.
Other me: There you go. Focus up and out- it always works.
So, I did. Five minutes later into this hot, humid run, I was still going, but hadn’t exactly broken through anything (often I do). It was still rough, and the conversation started again.
Me: Okay- we’re past that magical point, and it’s still not happening.
Other me: Then call it. Enough wasting energy on the question. No more complaining. If you’re going to do it, just go and get into it. If you’re not, then just turn around and be done.
Me: Ug. Well… maybe there’s a way to do both. A compromise without compromising… what if I cut this run shorter than normal by half, but focus on strength vs. endurance to get just as much out of it as a longer run? I never do that, but I could. The run ends faster, yet I work a little differently, honing something else. Win-win?
Other me: Okay. GO!
And I did. For the rest of the run I just pushed off each stride a little stronger than I normally would, focusing down on that push-off instead of my normal up and out for the horizon. I felt my focus sharpen, my legs get stronger, my voices quiet. My mind actually woke up in a different way with this slight little change in focus, and I felt myself doing something I’d done a million times through a surprisingly new lens of experience. Worth it for that alone. As I crossed the finish line of my driveway, I felt relieved that I didn’t quit, satisfied that I found a new way to strengthen my stride, and intrigued by how a slight change altered the whole experience so much.
Yet here’s the kicker…
As I looked down at my MapMyRun, I expected to see the much shorter time than normal, but not much change in my pace, since I was so slow out of the gate. And I was shocked- my pace actually improved by more than a full minute per mile faster! That’s a lot- even faster than some of my full-out sprints at the end of normal runs.
So- runner or not, here's what you and I both do:
- We have debates in our head like this all the time.
- We make choices about pushing through our internal resistance or not every day- consciously or not.
- We have things we do so regularly that they now define themselves in a fixed, possibly limiting way (i.e.: “a run” to me was running a certain pace, distance, way…).
So, try this…
Stay ahead of your voice. The tricky part about your little voice is that it knows you to the subconscious core, so knows exactly how to push you… yet also how to take you down- and it’s not always clear which motive is leading that internal conversation. It’s easy to get psyched out by it, so knowing when to stand up to that voice and how shut it down when it’s sabotaging you is crucial.* Yet if you stay in it (see #2 below), only engage in that internal debate for a limited engagement, or else you get sucked into a rabbit hole of internal tug-of-war, which can stop you dead in your tracks. That’s exactly why I clocked it this morning- after a few seconds of debate, I knew I’d need to contain it to a small timebox so something could either shift quickly or I could shut it down and power forward. Do you know how to separate from your little voice enough to assess its effect on you in the moment? Practice it.*
Take on the internal debate. Your voice can be your best cheerleader or your worst critic, and often it’s a combination that’s weirdly helpful. Sometimes it pushes you in exactly the way you need to be pushed, and it’s worth it to engage with it and argue through its resistance, pressure-cooking your thoughts into a better idea. My voice this morning deftly laid down the ultimatum of ‘shut up or go home’ because sometimes I need my options to be reduced down to A or B in order to push me into creating a divergent option of C. Had I ignored that voice and muscled through my full run this morning, I would’ve missed a huge learning, new experience and overall improvement. What does your little voice know you need, and when might it be pushing you exactly the way you uncomfortably need to go?
Shift one tiny thing, and you change the whole experience. We are more habitual than we like to think, and often go on autopilot without even realizing it. The first time you rode a bike it was exhilarating; by the hundredth time, it was just transportation. Through the practiced motions of what we do regularly, our experiences start to blend together. By changing one small thing (try folding your arms, then folding them the other way, with the opposite arm on top), everything changes. A shift even that slight forces you to experience it as instantly different, and you’re snapped out of autopilot, wide awake and getting nuance you missed the last 99 times, new synapses firing, new thoughts possible, and your operating system is rebooted. What possible element can you shift or zoom in on to change an otherwise regular experience right now and notice something new?
- Stay present in the experience, and be open to what might emerge. The cool surprise is that a tiny shift can also cause a huge change in results which you just couldn’t get to if you’d kept on with your original plan. Listening while arguing with my little voice got me to something I never would’ve planned. Every step I took a little stronger this morning felt different in the moment, but not enough, I thought, to really change my overall time so much (nor was that my goal, for a nice change). I was so present in the new experience that it didn’t matter to me, yet in the end that tiny change made a huge difference in my time, and will now be a new kind of run added into my training from now on. Perhaps the result you’ve been trying strategically to improve for so long actually needs you to release your vice-grip focus on it for a bit to pay attention to some overlooked element along the way before anything can change overall?
Going forward, I know my little voice will keep challenging me- that’s its job. I’ll keep looking for where it can be the catalyst for shift where I need it, experiences re-defined and results I can’t possibly predict from here. You too?