Don't overthink it. Stop thinking so much. Just let your body do what it knows how to do. Don't let your mind fight you.
These were common phrases I heard from my coaches growing up in gymnastics. I thought gymnastics was a mental sport, but then I realized running and ultimately everything else is too. Our mind can get in the way of so much of our life. We set limits and we set goals, all based on what our minds tell us. There are so many factors influencing what goes on inside our head - our upbringing, friends, family, TV, internet, life experiences, etc. There is a saying that running is 90% mental and only 10% physical, yet most people primarily focus on the physical training. We have positive and negative thoughts everyday affecting our performance, and we need to have control over them.
Matt Fitzgerald's book "How Bad Do You Want It?" gives lots of ways to help sharpen our minds and excel as athletes and human beings. The book is a great read with many of examples and true stories. He touches on both internal and external components affecting performance, and while he targets endurance athletes, I found much of the information applicable to life at large.
Here are my favorite quotes and interpretations:
- "No matter how gifted and successful an athlete may be, she must alway brace for the worst to race her best." p. 55 If you want to perform well, you can't expect it to be easy. You can't say it's not going to hurt till mile 20 in the marathon. You can't think I always do well in that race. You have to be ready to work. If you want to run your fastest time, you have to mentally prepare yourself to work harder than you ever have before. Just because you've done on 5k or marathon at a certain pace, does not mean the next one will be a piece of cake.
- "Athletes move more efficiently when their attention is focused on key features of their environment rather than on their own body." p. 88 It can be helpful to focus on external cues such as your feet hitting the ground rather than yourself such as your breathing.
- "The athlete who lacks self confidence can gain it by consciously pushing her goals and the worries that surround them out of her mind and teaching herself to stay focused on the task of the moment throughout the training process that leads up to the next big race." p. 101 Take the pressure of your next race off by taking it one day at a time. Simply focus on putting in your best effort with each run and daily session rather than the end. You want to enjoy the process, not just the outcome.
- "Elite sports competition features inherent challenges that demand great resilience from athletes, and resiliency requires past adversity... having things too easy in life can actually put developing athletes at a significant disadvantage." p. 132 If everything in life is perfect, you may not have the resources to face challenge when it presents itself. It's okay for everything not to go exactly as planned because you learn how to be a better person.
- "People who have a positive attitude and who don't sweat the small stuff tend to age slower and live longer." p. 236 This goes for everyone everywhere! That's another good book: "Don't Sweat The Small Stuff" by Richard Carlson.
- "People who have a strong passion for an activity are known to spend less time in age-accelerating emotional states such as anxiety." p. 242 Another statement not just for athletes. Find something you love, whether it's running, walking, cycling, skiing, coloring, crocheting, gardening or cooking. If you have a passion, it'll make you a happier person.
- "There is no experience quite like that of driving yourself to the point of wanting to give up and then not giving up... You come away from the trial with the kind of self-knowledge and self-respect that can't be bought." p. 261 People ask me why I run marathons. This quote sums it up pretty well.
- And from Steve Prefontaine, "To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift." p. 257