Can you stay focused for 30 days? Well, it depends (I hear you ask). True, it depends on what you are trying to focus on. For example, I’ve struggled to stay focused for 3 seconds when I’ve been forced to listen to someone prattle (isn’t that a great word, prattle, it seems to roll off your tongue, now I’m prattling), yet I can stay focused for 3 hours watching Louis Theroux documentaries. But what about running, can I stay focused on training for a half-marathon over the next 30 days?
The Gold Coast marathon will start at 6am on Sunday morning, 30 days from now. My goal – or probably a better word to use is VISION because it sounds more inspiring, and us humans need to be inspired to jog. Eating chocolate and watching TV on the other hand…we don’t need to be inspired to be lazy, but we do need to be inspired to be healthy. How did that get so warped? I blame Philo Farnsworth.
So my vision is to run everyday for thirty days leading up to the half-marathon so on Sunday the 3rd July I actually enjoy the run.
The secret: It’s all about focus.
Have you heard about the story of a long distance runner who tattooed a ‘+’ sign on his hand. Just above the thumb on that bulbous muscle. He said it forced him to stay positive every time he looked down.
The secret: Focus on the next step, not the finish line.
As I read in a Nike change room: there is no finish line.
So, if I’m going to be out on the road doing a Forest Gump on the crowd, my next question then is won’t I get bored. That’s the real reason people don’t run by the way, their mind starts to complain. It whines about being bored, telling us things like: are we there yet? I’m thirsty! I’m hungry! I’m uncomfortable! Are we there yet? What’s for dinner? I’m hungry! What are you doing wasting this energy on a meaningless jog! Time is money, let’s not waste it on the road! Are we there yet? I’m bored! Etcetera etcetera.
The solution: trick your mind by constantly persuading it to focus on taking small steps.
Running is a great metaphor for the daily grind of our everyday life. We burn calories the same way we burn mental energy. But burning mental energy is a lot easier than putting your sneakers on. My questions is this: is obsessing, and fretting, and sending our mind into over-drive healthy, the same way that running is? Is it possible to waste our mental energy on frivolous thoughts? To answer these questions I did a little research because I think one of the most valuable skills to learn is the ability to harness our mental energy. Focus. That illusive word that we all know what it means (like space & time) but when asked to describe what it means we flounder.
A few months ago I wrote the draft of this blog article after a morning run, this is what I wrote: “At 6am, on my morning beach run, on the first day of the long weekend it occurred to me that I had already focused my mental energy on a dozen things. What a waste! I started with a problem at work that was still yet unresolved. I found my mind churning through the dilemma – calculating and analysing all aspects of the situation. I found my mind running in circles around a problem that in all honesty didn’t need my attention till I returned to the office. And even then, it is still outside of my control. If only our sphere of influence wasn’t so damn small. But anyway, why focus on existential dilemmas anyway (look what happened to Jean Paul Sartre). Why focus on trying to control that which is not in our control.
Why do we do that to ourselves? Probably because we like the feeling of control. Control is Power. It feels good to be in control. However, this pavement of life isn’t always smooth; the terrain is changing constantly. So, should we try to control the terrain, or accept the terrain for what it is. And it is very temporary.
“This too shall pass: Acceptance is the opposite of control”
Some of the best advice I ever received about running was this: when your legs are burning and you’re ready to give up. Change your focus. Stop looking at the horizon – the finish line is till too far away. Instead, look down and focus on the minutiae of the terrain. Focus on the small things, enjoy the small picture at your feet, don’t stress about the big picture. And remember to ask yourself, can I take one more step? The answer will always be yes to that question.
Let’s start asking ourselves better questions.
For example, how can I enjoy my run today?
Focus is key. If we focus our mental energy on one thing, something magical happens. Our perception of that object becomes distorted. Try it. This evening, stare at a light bulb, soon you will see the image distort in your mind’s eye. And if you close your eyes, you will still see the bright image still burning in your mind’s eye. Focus on your vision. Make it bright. Make it compelling. And most of all, MAKE IT FUN & ENJOYABLE. We must learn to start enjoying our time with ourselves, even if we have to go on the occasional run together.
Runnings is fun!
(unless you’re being chased by that bear from the Revenant)