The following post was contributed by guest blogger Nicole Wildes, LPC
Runners are obsessed with numbers. Pace, distance, speed, calories, intervals, pooping schedule- you name it and runners track it. Running logs and tech devices are a great way observe patterns and monitor progress over time. Concrete running data helps with accountability and tends to be a pretty beneficial tool.
Except when it’s not.
Sometimes the numbers are the ultimate funsuckers.
Once upon a time, I set the goal of running a sub-thirty 5K. I came in at 28:14. After about thirty seconds of joy, The Fear Monsters showed up. And do you know what those son of a beasts said? You needed to start earlier in the corral, you could have finished sooner (Never Enough Monster). And you should have stayed on the inside especially by the water station (Perfectionist Monster- easily identified by the “should” statements). You wasted so much time going around people (Shame Monster). Imagine if you were 15 seconds faster and finished in 27 minutes. I mean, that would have been uh-mazing.
Our minds tend to ignore the good stuff. Hello? I shaved three minutes off my time! None of that matters to the Fear Monsters residing in our heads. Their number one job is to remind you that whatever it is you are doing, it’s highly likely you are doing it wrong. When you think of your negative thoughts as Fear Monsters, you create space between you and the thought. In that space, you can decide how much you power you want to give the thought. Here is an example of my thought process:
I tried my hardest, I beat my goal…but 27 minutes would have been better. Or 25 minutes. I bet if I lost weight I’d be faster. And wear shorts. Fast people wear shorts. Good luck wearing shorts with those legs. Jello-jiggler city, sister. You need to stop with the carbs. Like seriously, enough with the tv too. You wouldn’t eat so much if you didn’t watch binge on tv at night. Get it together.
Not only did I engage and entertain the thought of being a slow runner but my thoughts shame spiraled out of control. Before I knew that type of thinking was the natural consequence of being a human, I simply believed my thoughts were absolute truth. See, the mind hates unemployment. This is due in part to prehistoric times. If our ancestors weren’t in a state of high alert anxiety, they would be eaten by a lion. So our mind seeks to find and solve problems. If there isn’t a problem, the mind will make one up. Crazy, right?
Stephen Hayes, the founder of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), highlights the difference between values and goals. Using a map metaphor, values are like directions on a compass. They are ongoing actions based on your heart’s desire for a meaningful life and require consistent action. You can always go north, right? Then you can always live according to your values.
Like many people, I started running to lose weight (goal). When my running was contingent on scale, it was not a very loving relationship. Despite achieving other number goals, I was still left feeling like it wasn’t ever enough. When you run according to goals, those Fear Monsters always want more. They are simply insatiable. I needed a defense. I needed a value that would help me feel good about my running experience and sustain a lifelong commitment to exercise.
Ultimately, I continued running because of how it made me feel (value). Running became my non-negotiable. Whether it’s the rhythmic breathing outside, the excitement of race-cations, or therapy time with my sole sisters, running makes me a better everything. If my running “value” is based on how it makes me feel then the numbers are insignificant.
Values provide freedom from the Fear Monsters. I could run for ten minutes and it could matter as much as a ten miler. If my value is based on how it makes me feel then not only does everything count but it’s always enough. When my Perfectionist Monster shames me for a sucky run, I notice the thought and remind myself of the value. Here is how I would handle my sub-30 5K thought now:
I tried my hardest, I beat my goal…but 27 minutes would have been better. Hmmm…that’s an interesting thought. Is it true? No, if I did it in 27 minutes my mind would have wanted 25 minutes. Interesting thought to have right now while I’m feeling super proud of myself.
Done. Detached. No more power given to the critical voice within. Thank my mind and move on.
Some of you don’t have a super critical inner voice (lucky bastards) and the numbers are just numbers. But for those of us for whom the “if I pass out, pause my Garmin” meme is based on, those numbers can strangle the joy out of the running experience. Next time you’re out for a run, I wonder what would happen if you noticed the non-numeric reasons you run. Or better yet, I wonder what would happen if you left your Garmin at home.