Training Your Mind

This morning I got up at 4:30am and set out to do a 6.5-mile run (10.5km), which would be my longest in at least the past year. The weather was nice, starting out at 76 degrees, and I knew would continue to get cooler into the morning, at least until an hour or so after the sun came up.

I enjoyed the run very much, especially watching the sunrise while passing a local shopping mall and a baseball stadium.

I breezed through the 6.5 miles and decided to push myself a bit more, so I widened my intended loop on the way back to tackle an extra long hill. I ended up going a little over 8 miles (13km). I felt good afterwards. I’m sure I could have cranked out a few more miles, probably a half marathon if I really wanted to go that far. Maybe I’ll build up to that in the weeks ahead.

I’ve done lots of distance running before and ran the L.A. Marathon 20 years ago, but it’s different when building back up to distances that I’ve previously run. It was a big deal to me the first time I ran 10+ miles… and then a half marathon. In those days I was running distances I’d never run before. It’s been years since I’ve run 8+ miles, but it seemed easier because I’ve already gone way past that distance before.

When retracing distances I’ve already reached, it feels less dramatic and not as big of a deal. I still have to retrain my body to get there, but that’s easier than retraining my mind. Since my mind already knows I can do it, it doesn’t put up extra barriers. My mind doesn’t resist so much. It already knows how to cope with longer runs.

When I would train for longer distances 20+ years ago, I had to wrestle my mind into cooperating. It used to generate thoughts like:

  • This seems really far.
  • Won’t it be boring to run for that long?
  • Not even halfway yet… argh.
  • What if I run out of water along the way?
  • Still 3 more miles to go… that’s a lot.

But this morning I noticed my mind behaving differently, generating thoughts like these:

  • Twenty minutes done already… that was easy.
  • Remember that when the mind feels like it’s done, you’re only at 40% of capacity, so you’ve got way more in the tank that you realize.
  • Halfway… no problem, still feeling great.
  • What a beautiful sunrise. Let’s take a pic to remember this morning.
  • Six miles done. Not even a challenge. Let’s go to seven.
  • I could surely do another half mile.
  • We’re so close to eight miles… might as well top it off.
  • I could do more, but let’s save some for next week. This one feels complete.

Running with an untrained mind is more difficult. The untrained mind makes the physical effort feel harder. But when the mind is trained, it’s positive and cooperative, and it makes the experience of effort feel more pleasant and enjoyable. Even breathing hard and sweating up a hill feels good when the mind is aligned with it.

I’ve noticed this same effect in business too. The mind often resists when trying something new, but then as the mind gains more experience, it puts up less resistance and flows into positive cooperation.

One of the biggest barriers my mind put up was for international travel. My mind voiced so many objections that it’s no wonder I couldn’t make this part of my reality for many years. Once I pushed through that resistance though, international travel became relatively easy to access and enjoy.

One of the best ways to train the mind is to keep doing what it resists. Seek out its limitations, and create counter-experiences to destroy those limitations.

Maybe it seems odd to prove your own mind wrong, but it’s incredibly practical. What’s the alternative? Accept the limitations your mind foists upon you, and let them always limit you. No thanks.

What makes your mind become scared and whiny? What causes it to raise objection after objection till it wears you down with its “logic”? What makes your mind say, “You can’t do that”? Do you really need to own those thoughts? Why not annihilate those thoughts instead? They’re just thoughts, not reality.

I think it’s good to shove your mind kicking and screaming into those territories where it dares not explore. Push it to reconsider and reframe how it sees reality. Prove it wrong enough times, and it will begin to doubt its own certainties about failure, which opens the door to seeing more possibilities instead.

The mind can be trained, but not if you tolerate its whininess. When it gets whiny, give it the equivalent of extra push-ups instead. You say it’s too far? Great, now you have to surpass that. You say we can’t? Great, now you have to do it!

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Read Training Your Mind by Steve Pavlina

Steve Pavlina

Steve Pavlina is an American self-help author, motivational speaker and entrepreneur. He is the author of the web site and the book Personal Development for Smart People.

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