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Category: mental toughness

Fear or Curiosity

There are two primary ways to handle most of life’s difficult situations: fear of the unknown or curiosity about what lies ahead. Curiosity is the better choice of the two, and there’s a good reason. It embodies a desire to understand how things work. The key is to reframe the internal dialogue when fear raises its voice. It’s okay to feel fear, but it’s important to learn to speak over it and start asking questions. Choosing curiosity as your default response is more beneficial than succumbing to fear, and the choice is yours! You have the power to act and speak to drown out the voice of fear in your mind.

Don’t get furious, get curious.

Asking a silly question or taking a risk has often paid off for me. Reflecting on the major triumphs in my life, each one seemed beyond my grasp until it became reality. It’s remarkable to consider that if you fixate on a goal in your mind and refuse to give up, you can make it your own.

The next time you’re confronted with a fear-filled thought, try asking questions instead. Cultivate curiosity about the situation and explore why you feel afraid. Fear is the default reaction of our minds. Thoughts like “I don’t want to look like a fool,” “I have no idea what I’m doing,” and “This will never work” often race through my head. Fears may hold some truth the first time, but they diminish with experience. Remember, you possess the innate ability to improve your circumstances. Almost everyone experiences imposter syndrome; it’s part of our makeup. The challenge today is that social media often showcases only the highlights of people’s achievements, not their beginnings. But everyone starts somewhere. By asking the right questions, you can embark on a journey that shifts you away from a mindset dominated by fear.

I have a few things that can help you fight your fear with curiosity in your day-to-day life:

Stop comparing. Start somewhere, no matter how small, and make tiny progress. You will achieve anything you keep putting constant effort into EVERY SINGLE DAY, not just once in a while.

Seek out those at the top of their field and ask how they got started. People are doing what you want to do. Read their books, listen to their podcasts, and try to surround yourself with the tools to make progress. You are an average of the people you associate with most, be it real or fictitious.

Perfection is unattainable.  Those who overcome fear are those who are comfortable with the metaphorical punches—the setbacks and embarrassments. They are fine with appearing foolish, finishing last, lifting lighter weights, or struggling with a single chin-up or push-up. It’s the story you tell yourself that’s holding you back. You can acknowledge those thoughts, but then move on to start asking the right questions on how to change your current situation. If you do the work, you will eventually get to where you want to be.

Keep a journal of the little wins. Our minds love these small victories, no matter how minor they may be. It’s rewarding to the brain when we get things right. In an ultrarunning race, I break down each aid station into little checkpoints and do a mini-celebration once I reach them. I arrive, happy to see the aid station workers, eat some food, and celebrate the small triumph. Then, I shift focus and push myself to leave the aid station. This is a metaphor for success. On your road to victory, have a map or a planned outline of where you want to go, follow the route, enjoy the successes along the way, and then pause to look for what’s next. Shift your focus to the next target and keep moving forward.

In an ultra race, I am always curious about what’s coming up next on the course, whom I will meet, where they are from, and what they do for a living. How did they get to where they are now? Curiosity, not fear, drives me in these events. Fear cripples; fear diminishes you. It will get dark at times, but I am always curious about what the finish line will feel like and what food they will have at the end. I don’t memorize every detail as I head into a race because I enjoy the element of surprise. It’s that curiosity that can propel you as well if you keep seeking it in all your daily activities. Thank you for reading. What ignites curiosity in you during your adventures? Let me know in the comments below.

Moving Meditation for UltraRunners

I have a trick that I use when I’m running and I want the negative self-talk to go away. I focus on one simple thing: the wind. Not listening to the wind, but the feeling of it. Let me explain further. As you pump and swing your arms while running, focus on the tiny, subtle feeling of the air as it flows through your fingertips. Intrusive thoughts will still enter your mind—thoughts like “I can’t maintain this pace,” “This hurts,” “My life sucks,” or “Why did I eat that pepperoni cheese pizza at mile 57?” Allow your thoughts to come, but then intensely redirect your focus back to the sensation of the wind passing through your fingers.

Your mind is so busy trying to focus on such a small detail that it forgets the negative chatter that’s on a loop in your brain. The mind is only good at focusing on one thing at a time. There are times in a race when you have to focus and bring your attention to the task at hand, such as eating on a routine, pushing on climbs, or taking it easy on descents. However, you also encounter long stretches where there’s nothing specific to focus on, and if you have any pain, it’s going to make itself known.

When I’m engaged in what I call the “moving wind meditation”, and no that’s not passing gas from too much Tailwind. I start to forget the negative chatter. It brings back the silence to my mind. The bad, negative thoughts melt away, and I’m back to just thinking about the wind as it passes through my fingers. This isn’t to say the pain is gone; it’s just not at the forefront of my attention anymore. This may seem silly, but the next time you’re on the run and things aren’t going well, focus on the wind flowing around and through your hands. Concentrate on the wind as it passes through your fingers with each stride. It may not work the first or second time, but if you do it long enough, it can have an impact on your mental state when you need it most. Like I said, there are times to focus, and then there are times to let go. It sounds like a simple act but is more powerful than you might think. It stops you from trying to focus on all the things that are going “right” or “wrong” with your race.

LoL… Her fingers…

Thoughts are temporary, but they need to be acknowledged. Don’t fight them. The more you fight them, the more they want to stay. It’s like if I said, “Whatever you do, don’t think about pink elephants.” The first thing you’ll do is have a pink elephant jump into your mind. You have to embrace what you’re feeling, acknowledge it, or shift your attention elsewhere.

You can’t just do this for a minute or so during your run; try it for a 10- to 15-minute block, focusing on the wind passing over your hands or arms. It can be an effective tool when the negative mental chatter becomes overwhelming in an ultra.

This is adapted from a book by Eckhart Tolle.

Go within. Use the inner body as a starting point for going deeper and taking your attention away from where it’s usually lodged, in the thinking mind.

Eckhart Tolle