How to Start Anything

I used to hate running

What thoughts come to your mind when you think about going out for a run? What about exercise?

Pain?  Suffering? Light headedness? Knee/back pain? A flashback to high school football?

You’re not alone. A few months ago, even the thought of running was daunting. I simply associated it with pain, suffering and an overall boring experience.

Now, just a few months into the process, I look forward to runs. I enjoy them and use them to help deal with stress, train and push myself.

How did I get there?

I implemented a plan based on my biggest limiting factor: my mind.

I set out to use running as a tool to help control my emotions, thoughts, and to change my perception of the activity.

With any activity, the biggest mistake people make is to set an arbitrary standard. In this case, it would be to run for a specific distance, or pace.

“I need to run eight minute miles”

You go out and run the fastest mile you can. It’s painful, daunting and uncomfortable.

Maybe you make it, maybe you don’t. Either way, you put running into the “the things I hate to do” category. And you only trained for a total of eight minutes…..

What you’ve done is strengthened the thought in your mind that running is a painful experience.

Chances are you’ll skip your next run. You’ll tell yourself you’ll do it at the end of the day, knowing that there’s a good chance you’ll get tired and say “I’ll run tomorrow.”

Learning to walk before you run

You skipped a step. You wanted to drive a fast car before you even learned to turn the car on and work the gas and brake pedals.

The task was too challenging.

Output vs. Experience

There is a phrase that Jon says all the time:

“People focus on the outcome instead of the actual experience.

For a long time, I fell into that same trap.

If challenged, I could run a couple of miles. It would suck, but I could do it.  I would suffer through the entire experience. I would chalk running up in the “things I really hate to do” category.

This time around, instead of focusing on a better outcome, I focused on creating a better experience.

When I started, I wanted to trick my mind into enjoying running. I wanted to experience what it was like to have positive thoughts on the subject.

In order to do this, I utilized what I know about psychology and applied it to physical training.

Two systems, one brain

The brain has two systems. System 1 and System 2.

System 1 is your subconscious, initial thoughts on a subject/situation/environment

System 2 is your conscious thoughts or reasoning on the same topic.

My thoughts on running were something like this:

System 1: You’re not made to run. It’s really hard and you suck at it.

The problem is, system 2 is lazy, and it can take a lot of motivation to get system 2 to pipe up and be heard. So without a lot of disturbances you can just accept system 1’s thoughts as fact.

Finally, It was heard

System 2: If you want to get where you want to go, you’re going to have to start running.

So how do you go about switching your mind set and your initial thoughts?

System 1 is largely based off past experiences/thoughts and perception. If you perceive running as a threat, you’re probably going to avoid it, or quit.

Luckily, you can change your subconscious thoughts with deliberate, conscious thoughts and practice.

To change my thoughts on running, I need to gather enough positive experiences to override my negative thoughts.

I set out do this in a number of ways:

Using science as an ally

There are three energy systems in the body.

These systems work in conjunction with one another, but one is always being emphasized more than the others.

Aerobic development takes place when your heart rate is within 130-150 beats per minute.

The anaerobic system kicks in when someone exceeds 150 bpm (generally speaking). Once anaerobic, you’re body switches its energy source, from oxygen to lactate.

This is good news if you need to generate power quickly, for a short period of time. It’s not so good when you still have more than a couple of minutes left in your run.

When I started running, my body was incredibly inefficient at utilizing oxygen. Even a 10-minute pace would shoot my heart rate to 160 bpm within a few hundred yards.

Here lies the problem

When people start to work on their aerobic endurance, they’re most likely becoming anaerobic by accident. They’re making it a lot harder than it should be. Much, much harder.

Those fit people you see running effortlessly really are running fairly effortlessly, but they didn’t get there through amazing genetics or luck, but through strategic practice.

This is relevant because pain can cause you to question why you started in the first place. You’re confirming your prior belief that “you suck at running.” Also, if you’re extremely sore the next day, you may think twice about going back out for your second run.

What I did about it

I bought a heart rate monitor. Not because it was a cool gadget, but because it provided objective feedback to help me control the experience.

When utilizing your HR monitor. You’re allowing an objective measure to dictate your pace, distance and effort.  The effort it takes to get your HR up will vary day to day.

This is important.

You’re taking your ego out of the equation. You’re allowing your body to dictate your pace, not the pre-work out or coffee you drank prior to your run.

By doing this, you may be surprised at how little effort it takes to get your HR up and out of the aerobic zone. It only took me a few hundred yards at a slow pace before I had to start walking, or slow my pace to get my HR back down.

With my HR monitor as my guide, I would set my timer for 40 minutes and track the distance I moved during the time span.

The trick is to have low expectations.

I would start running until my HR reached 150 bpm, slow my pace and pick an object in the distance to run to. Then I’d walk until my HR came down to 130 bpm and repeat the process.

At the end of the 40 minutes, I’d record the distance in order to track my progress. I started by covering 3 miles in 40 minutes, 3 months later, I can do 5 miles in the same time frame.

The idea of run/walking for 40-60 minutes not only no longer bothers me; I’ve started to enjoy it. My initial negative thoughts on running have been overridden with positive thoughts and experiences.

What I learned

Through an understanding of science and psychology, you can change your perception of any task.

Most importantly, using deliberate practice with objective measures for feedback you will build positive experiences, you can inch your way to accomplishing anything.

By Matt Malloy