I went for a run tonight with no distractions: no music, no GPS, nothing. In the absence of distraction, my brain was overflowing with things I didn’t want to think about, including the desire to be done running. I have no idea how far I ran or how long I was gone. But after about halfway of whatever that final distance was, I was too tired to focus on anything but my own breathing, yet not tired enough to quit. So I kept going until tired was winning. And then I went a little more. In total brain silence.
In my life leading up to this year, I have never considered myself a runner. I was a two-sport varsity athlete for four years of high school, and couldn’t run long distances. I kept in on-and-off shape in college, and couldn’t run long distances. I played beach volleyball for six months a year for five years of adulthood, and I couldn’t run long distances. I have been exercising relatively regularly for about seven months now after a two-year parenting hiatus, and all of the sudden, I can run longer distances. It’s certainly not magic. I’ve been working hard, losing weight, building muscle, so it makes logical sense that it is improving my distance running. But after a lifetime of defeat, I cannot wrap my brain around this new ability.
As I sat stretching and recovering, I considered what I just did, and was really fascinated by the idea that when I stopped thinking and kept pushing, it just worked. Much of what I have been doing the last seven months has been P90X, which has done amazing things for me. In the yoga workout, there is a point where you are standing tall on your toes and reaching toward the ceiling. To help keep balance, Tony Horton (the guy responsible for the P90X workout), says “Don’t think about your feet on the floor, think about your hands in the air. And then stop thinking.” And it works every time. I go from wobbly and shaky to stiff as a board, just like that. The power of anti-thought.
Am I on to something here? Is this what I need to do in other situations too? Consider parenting. A good friend asked me how it works, how you are able to put it all aside, the exhaustion, frustration, scheduling, etc., to be a parent. I think about childbirth, sleep deprivation, hour-long temper tantrums, balancing stressful work days with calmer family time, and I know I have used that same strategy. Too tired to focus on anything but my own breathing, and not tired enough to quit, so I just keep going. I think this is a solid strategy for sports. For other areas of life, I’m not so sure. But it’s an honest strategy, and I would hazard a guess that I’m not alone in using it. Unfortunately, it works well for the short-term but completely unravels in the long haul. It’s helpful when your newborn is crying at 10 pm, 2 am, and 5 am. Don’t think, just do. It’s not helpful when your schedule is so full that you forget the plans you just confirmed 24 hours ago. Must think, can’t do. There’s a balance there somewhere that I just haven’t found. Better go for a longer run.