Long ago in a (pre-COVID) galaxy far, far away, I ran four half marathons in a year. And while it takes a certain level of physical fitness to run for multiple hours, the truth is that endurance races are won or lost inside your head. There comes a time in every long run when you’re tired, uncomfortable, and questioning your life choices. That’s the point when you are most at risk of quitting. The people who make it out of the rough patch talk themselves through it.
It made a lot of sense to me the first time someone framed coping with COVID as a marathon. This virus has been around far longer than many of us expected, and we still have plenty of road ahead of us before we get to cross the finish line. Buying mountains of toilet paper isn’t going to save us. The only way we’re going to get through is by tending to our mental wellness.
Everything I Learned about Mental Toughness I Learned from Running
I’m not a mental health expert. I also don’t want to imply that I’m skating through this pandemic without a care in the world. Two of my relatives died in April in the space of six days. I live with the same financial uncertainty that touches us all. But running taught me a technique for slogging through the tough bits. Maybe it will help you.
Acknowledge the feeling.
At the beginning of my run training I couldn’t run more than two miles. I tried running at different times of the day. I experimented with when I ate in relation to when I ran. Nothing seemed to work. Twenty minutes into my run my energy would tank and I would quit running.
Eventually, I realized that I needed to pay attention to what I told myself when I got tired. Usually, I said ‘I’m so tired. I don’t know if I can do this.’ Then I tried talking myself out of my exhaustion. (This is what I thought positive self-talk was.) It didn’t work because I was lying. And no one believes a liar.
After a lot of trial and error I discovered what works for me. I treat the whole thing like a cross between a therapist’s visit and a hostage situation. When my brain says ‘I’m tired,’ I think ‘Yes I’m tired, but I’m not injured, and I know I can go a little bit longer.’ And you know what? I usually can.
Re-frame the Situation.
At some point you’re going to feel like you’re doing the pandemic wrong. If you’re a parent, you worry that you’re breaking your kids because you can’t home school with a smile. If you’re childless you may be disappointed with your inability to write a novel or get in the best shape of your life.
Here’s the thing. None of us were meant to function optimally in a pandemic. They don’t cover how to do that in school. Our circumstances have changed. And as any savvy business person will tell you, when the market changes, a savvy business leader changes her approach. She changes her goals and expectations to suit the current conditions.
So when that little voice inside of you tells you that you’re a bad person for eating cupcakes for dinner, or for letting your kids play Minecraft for 10 hours straight, you tell it that you aren’t lowering the bar. You’re being adaptable. And when the pandemic passes, you will adjust your approach like the resilient person that you are.
You’re doing your best. And your best is good enough.