Mind Games that Keep Me Running [When I Feel Like Stopping]

This article is about the techniques (mind games) I use with myself to stop the Emotional Mind (e-mind) from whining too loudly and affecting the Logical Mind (L-mind) enough that the L-mind actually makes the body stop running.

Hawaii Loa Ridge Trail in Honolulu,<br /> Hawaii.Sometimes when I’m running I get this urge to stop running and start walking.

There’s no logical reason for it. The body is ready. The mind is just turning lame for some reason. Usually, I can pinpoint one of two reasons the mind is giving me these signals to stop and walk or quit altogether.

I know there’s no fact behind the mind’s protests… I run just about exactly the same amount every day. I vary by only a half mile or so sometimes. The e-mind is lazy sometimes and needs to be controlled. Athletes at the top of their game must face this all the time. I can’t figure out if amateurs like me face it more or less than the top athletes in the world. Any ideas? Maybe only when they’re really pushing… I’m not sure… anyone want to venture a guess in the comment section?

Here are the two ways I see the e-mind trying to influence the run and turn it into a “no-run”. Compare yourself to see if you have one of these two experiences or if yours is different. If you have a different experience please leave a comment about it – and let me know. I’m very interested in mind games that go on in my own head – and everyone’s head as they’re running.

Two Scenarios in which the Emotional Mind wants to Stop my Run

1st Way

This one happens when I’ve been running about 15 – 25 minutes or so… I’m not having a “flow” experience but the run isn’t that bad. I’m probably thinking a lot or paying too much attention to the body and every feeling in my feet, toes, thighs, shoulders, arms, breathing, state of tension, etc. I’m kind of overworking my brain to pay attention to everything – like the biofeedback computer (my brain) is supposed to do. Problem is – the brain isn’t ready for it for some reason. Maybe the stress of the day is also churning heavy thoughts around and throwing the brain off its game.

This one usually first manifests by my realizing that my breathing is not perfect. Other things are then noticed…my body is not that limber – I’m a bit stiff… a little pain in my toe… it’s hot… The emotional mind starts to create this idea that maybe it can convince the logical mind to call a halt to the run and we’ll do some walking for a while. Now, sometimes this is OK, but not in the first couple of miles for me – it’s not a good reason to walk and relax some. I need to be strong and do something before the whiny e-Mind (emotional mind) wins and makes the L-mind (logical mind) stop and walk for a bit.

2nd Way

This one happens when I get this overwhelming feeling of having NO energy… It may exist upon starting the run or it may start to come over me as the run progresses. This one is a real problem because it’s the one that the e-mind can actually WIN with and make me walk sometimes.

When the logical mind realizes the e-mind is whining about having a very low energy threshold during the run and not wanting to continue it starts to assess…

Did the body drink enough water in the past 24 hours? How many coffees?

Did the body eat anything with sugar or fat in the last few days?

Typically the answer is no to this one – so the L-mind must be careful to realize that. I’m not a sugar or fat eater and I need to consciously find some and eat it – usually in the form of ice-cream to get some occasionally.

Did the body eat enough carbs in the last 24 hours or so? What about breakfast? Lunch?

Did you eat something before the run that might have taken the blood into the stomach away from the running muscles?

The L-mind evaluates because it’s the judger. It needs to make a ruling. Sometimes the L-mind just makes a ruling and makes the run continue regardless of the whining e-mind and how loud it gets. Other times the L-mind agrees – something is really weird, should stop and walk the rest of the way, fix it for next run.

So, usually, the L-mind can get through the whining. Occasionally it cannot. I’d say the L-mind prevails about 80% of the time lately.

I’m saying that 80% of the time the L-mind makes a ruling to continue the run and everything goes OK. The L-mind feels stronger for having made the body and e-mind do something it didn’t want to do – and the runs for me are short enough that there’s not that much suffering really. I don’t force speed on days I don’t feel right. So the e-mind and body endure some discomfort.

But here’s the thing…

I only stop and walk during a run about 3% of the time. 97% of the time I run. How does that add up you’re wondering?

Here’s what happens… the mind games kick-in on auto-pilot sometimes so the L-mind doesn’t need to make a ruling…

Huh? Yeah, exactly. I’ve never written about this before but as I ran today and went through a run that I felt weak on and had breathing that wasn’t smooth or easy and then the mind games auto-kicked in. It was really cool to realize what had been happening many times in the past.

The Automatic Mind games!

Auto-Mindgame Kicks in…
So this happens when I’m running and feeling like I’m scoring about a “2” out of a “10” run. The e-mind is whining – something about the run sucking so hard that light is bending toward us. I’m ignoring it for a while but then the L-mind kicks in and starts some logical assessments. It turns out that things look good. Water intake, calories, fat, sugar, sleep, are all good, so I should be operating at peak. This mind game kicked in where I started to count my breaths out and in which I hadn’t done for the previous 20 minutes of running. The mind game then changed to counting paces. I just started counting every pace that I took. Then it switched to every other step and counting by 2’s which was less stressful. The fingers on the left hand were keeping track of the hundreds and the mind was keeping track of the number of times the left hand got to 500.

Turns out the mind just did this ON ITS OWN. I never consciously said, hey, let’s count how many steps around the park. I found out though as I got to 1,000 steps the L-mind (logical mind) realized – wow, you just counted 1,000 steps. But the greater realization was that there was no suffering of any sort during the run as I counted. The focus on the numbers was so great and required so much constant focus that the e-mind (emotional mind) couldn’t think about anything to whine about! So – the body just ran. The breathing evened out and the run was going well at that point of realization.

Well, the mind kept focused and counting. 2,657 steps around the park on the track I usually take when i do a big loop.

The run went from being a 2/10 to a 8/10 JUST BECAUSE of this game my mind started playing!

I felt great, my breathing was good and my pace had picked up a lot… my stride got longer and the body was much looser than it was for the first 20 minutes. I continued running and when I finished I was thinking – “Wow, the mind game just stepped in and made everything go smoothly!” How cool is that?

Then as I was walking around the parking lot of the park and trying to get rid of the lactic acid a little bit… I realized – I have many little mind games that kick in and take the focus of the mind somewhere else and “save” the run. The run goes from a low rating, maybe a “2” out of “10” up to a 6/10 or higher. These mind games are great tools and I’ll try to explain some of the other ones below…

Other Mindgames:

Sometimes these come automatically and others I initiate…

Squinting eyes. I squint my eyes so that they’re nearly closed. Vision gets very dark and I feel like if I don’t see the elements that are in front of me – the concrete usually, then the run becomes less like a run. This works especially well with dark glasses on. When I first did this it was late at night, as I used to run around midnight. I noticed that – it’s much less mental stress to be running when I can’t see the road and understand that I’m moving my (then) 180 lb body over it. It was a feeling as if I was almost “sleep running.” I create no expectations and just run – as slow as or as fast as the body goes. No matter. No worries. This one is really almost like sleeping – I just let myself feel as relaxed as possible, like I’m in my bed… and the run goes much more smoothly that it was before I initiated this mind game.

Passing imaginary competitors. First I might imagine that I see my mom in front of me. My mom doesn’t run. She could a little bit, but she doesn’t. I imagine that my run is so bad that even she is in front of me. I pass her and then I see my uncle with a knob on his neck that smokes a lot. He’s further ahead. I pass him. Then I see some enemies from the past – high school usually as I can’t find anyone to hate much in the last 20 years. I pass them all. I start to feel a little better. Then comes another level in the next group… peers at school that I wanted to get better grades than in undergrad and in graduate school. I pass them. I pass co-workers. I see far ahead, some superstars in the blogging world. I catch and pass them. I see superstars in sci-fi action movies…. Tony Robbins and Darren Rowse, even Steve Pavlina come into view as the last ones I need to pass… Sometimes I pass them, but usually, I save them for another day. I keep them out ahead of me to motivate me to keep going and chasing them.

Not thinking. I just kind of blank the mind of thought and run “in the moment” or “in the present”. I wrote about this before, in another article. Here is an article where I talk about “flow” and creating flow – during a run that otherwise wouldn’t have it. Flow is that state where everything is effortless and there is a fluidity of motion, a natural economy of motion that is efficient, smooth, powerful, effortless, and without suffering…

Read about Flow in Running here > The part about “Pseudo Flow” is where I talk about blanking the mind but, the whole article is probably a bit different from things you’ve read in the past.

Focus on breathing. Sometimes this one works, and sometimes not. The other mind games all seem to work consistently with me. For this one I just focus on the number of strides I’m taking as I run compared with the breaths I’m taking. If I’m relaxed and running very easily I’m usually at 4 strides as I breathe in for 1 breath, and 4 strides for each out-breath. I call this 4/4 breathing. If I’m going fast I’m at a 2/2 breathing rate. I find that if I concentrate on watching my feet hit in front of me as I’m aware of the in-breath and then again for the out-breath I notice much less any discomfort or whining from the e-mind about the body not feeling quite energized or ready enough to continue running.

Breathing in extra hard. I notice that if i start to inhale extra hard as I’m running – and expanding the lungs – it seems to have an effect after about 6-10 breaths. The extra oxygen makes me feel better and it’s a noticeable change. I try it every few minutes if it seems to work the first time. I’m usually in a 2/2 breathing pattern if I try this as it’s easy to forcefully inhale when breathing hard and fast. Belly Breathing is also an awesome technique that I think brings 10% improvement immediately, to any run you’re not using it. Read about it by clicking that link.

How much you’re suffering can be controlled by the eyes. Yeah, believe it or not! I noticed today that as I wasn’t feeling that great during the run my eyes were focused very close to my feet. I was looking almost at my feet. Then, when I looked up further ahead to where my usual gaze is while running and feeling good – about 5- 6 paces in front of me, my mood changed. I felt better. I felt less pain because the focus of the eyes was out away from the body. Strange huh? Try it yourself. Then I tried to focus far off in the distance – 50 yards or as far as I could see down the path. You know what? I didn’t even feel the body at all. It was like I was floating through the air. I couldn’t feel my feet hit the pavement.

Try to be conscious of where your eyes are looking as you run – and you can control how much attention your mind pays to the suffering based on where your eyes are looking!

Hanauma Bay Ridge, Oahu, Hawaii.Any of these mind games can be initiated by you consciously. But, it’s really cool to realize that your brain did it on its own to get rid of the whining emotional mind and to get rid of having to experience suffering a run that isn’t going as smoothly as they usually do.

Sometimes I realize that it happened 20 minutes after it was going on! That’s a cool moment when I say to myself, “Hey, the mind was up to something – it took over subconsciously!”

Best of Life!

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Does your mind play any mind games to get over the pain of running on days when you don’t feel quite up to it?

What are they?

Do they ever happen on their own or do you initiate them consciously every time?

Other running articles I’ve written:

27 Reasons I love to go Running!”>27 Reasons I love to go Running!

Flow, Pseudo Flow, and Mind-Tweaking During Exercise

Want to Start Running? (A plan, complete with mental gymnastics)