I just finished The Ultra Mindset, An Endurance Champion’s 8 Core Principles for Success in Business, Sports, and Life, and while some of it felt lackluster—or far-reaching, as he tries to educate both on the mindset of an extreme endurance athlete and that of any other endeavor in life—there were three sections that really hit home for me in my running.
While I’m not training for any ultra distances (yet?), I can already see how these ideas have trickled into my training and helped strengthen my mental stamina.
It’s all good mental training.
This principle you’ve heard here already, and it’s a good one. Every run—the good, the bad, the ugly, the one where you end up walking more than you should—is a coin in the piggy bank.
Every workout is giving you material to build with mentally, even if that workout was difficult because of a “poor” mental state. You can use every run to make the next run better, and I’ve found that just telling myself “It’s all good mental training” during a hard run makes it better, and fast.
It also highlights how you don’t want to avoid the negative mental states; you want to strengthen your mental resilience so that you know how to keep going despite a negative mindset. That, right there, applies to life in bigger pictures.
The 4:30 am Rule: When you have no choice, anything is possible.
This is gold, and it’s something many people do not practice. So often, we give ourselves too much choice (for fear of feeling restricted and losing freedom), which ends up sabotaging our work ethic and progress. The 4:30 am anecdote references Macy’s father who worked long hours as a lawyer, was an active and present parent to his two children and husband to his wife, and still trained for endurance races. Instead of saying he didn’t have the time, he scheduled in the time, waking up at 4:30 am everyday to do so. He cemented into his mind that this was to happen, there was no choice. And because of that, he was able to live the life he dreamed of, and to the fullest.
This reminds me of performing and singing. When I put in the hours in the practice room to get my vocal technique down—and the hours in the library interpreting not only the text (and the translation, as it was often in other languages) but also the text in context of the poet’s life and the song and text in context of the composer’s life—only then was I ready to be able to play with the song. The no-choice work had to come first, and when I did it consistently, I was able to perform and take risks and really lose myself in the character of the role or song.
I read an article recently that said giving yourself some harsh boundaries and discipline is having empathy for your future self. I believe this to be true. If you know you need to run 5 miles after work, you don’t get to choose that you just don’t feel like it. I’m getting much better at this, and I can see a difference in my mental endurance because of it. (It also has helped me get more done at work.)
Think about your thinking: the what and the why.
Macy tells so many great personal stories of endurance races gone right and wrong, and in this section he tells of two instances: one where he was racing a monotonous section where he wasn’t challenged much, and one (okay, many) where he was racing a section that involved a lot of obstacles and focus.
In the former situation, when you’re doing something unchallenging or boring, you want to focus on the why to get through the monotony.
In the latter, when you’re being pushed, you need to focus on the what, what’s in front of you, the mechanics of it all. (In the book, he shows how accidentally switching the two mindsets cost him, significantly.)
This has been so eye-opening to me. I always tried to motivate myself with the why when I was really struggling physically: during hills, tempo runs, or eeking out that last extra mile of a long run. Instead, in those cases, you just have to focus on what you’re doing: getting to that next light pole, putting one foot in front of the other, a deep breath here, another there, and so on. Seems much less inspiring, but it works. Save the inspiration for when your mind isn’t expelling so much energy on your body!
If you’re a runner, I recommend reading this book because of these gems, and because of all the mind-boggling stories strewn about the chapters both by Macy and his colleagues. (Good stuff, but it isn’t Deepak Chopra, you know?)