Wednesday, April 12, 2017

How to Develop & Grow Mental Grit

I'm currently training for a half marathon. It'll be my fourth one - about 4 years since my last. I don't necessarily LOVE running long distances. I find I get bored, my body gets annoyed and my mind just tells me to quit out of sake of monotony.
I was running 11.2K the other day (7 miles) and around the 8K mark I was just done. My hips were sore, my chest burning, and I was just tired. Tired of running. Tired of moving in the same way. But I kept plugging away and finished off the planned distance. I knew if I quit before the end, my next long run would mentally be twice as hard as it otherwise should be. That little voice reminding me of my shortcomings would be screaming in my ear.

This struggle to carry on took me back to the day I really started to run out of necessity. It was 13 years ago, about a week after I received the shocking news that my Mom had passed away. Devastation doesn't touch the surface of what I was feeling. I needed out of the pain, it was too much for me to feel all at once. So one day, on a walk, I began to run. It didn't last long so I alternated it with walking. More often than not. When my feet sped up, I felt slight reprieve from my pain and I became addicted. I needed to run. I needed the release, even if temporary, from my grief. I was aware of the wind rushing on my face, the sun warming my skin. I felt my heart pound and my breath race as my body struggled to figure out what was happening. The whole experience forced me into the present moment rather than the grief from recent news and desperate fear of what lie ahead.

It was then, in grieving for my Mom, that I learned how to strengthen my mind. The dictionary defines mental grit as "firmness of character; indomitable spirit." I like to think of mental grit as an ability to persevere regardless of the challenge. Or maybe BECAUSE of the challenge.

So while I likely started developing mental grit back when I was much younger, the first memory I have of specifically evolving my mind was back in June of 2004.

My body was out of shape. But my breaking heart made me run farther than I thought I could. I soon came to realize that I was capable of more than I knew. Mental grit was developing.

Over 13 years I have mastered the art of mental grit...though I'm still far from being a pro.

Being outside my comfort zone in the gym or on the pavement expands the circle of belief I have in my capability. I am constantly pushing harder, to prove to myself that the limits I have are only in my mind. Someone recently asked me why my hill runs aren't easy. After all I've been doing the same hill run for months and I always come back winded after a hard struggle. After thinking about it, I realized it's because I won't ALLOW it to be easy. If I feel comfortable I will speed up to challenge myself. I thrive on a good challenge. My body can only do what my mind will allow, and when the body is feeling done, that's when the mind has to be strong and carry on for the body.

This translates into the emotional life as well. When I am faced with something difficult, I know that I have what it takes to get through. And not just to get through but to THRIVE through.

Here are my top 5 tips for developing mental grit:

1. Be outside your comfort zone
Staying in a familiar zone of comfort will never open your eyes to possibility. Start pushing against the walls of comfort.

2. When you think you're done, keep going
This is really the only way you'll start strengthening your mind. By pushing past those times you think you are done, whether that be physically, mentally or emotionally. When you're working out and tell yourself you're done, give it a few more reps or a few more minutes.

3. Look for the lessons
When you're in the midst of a struggle, always look for the lessons. They are always there, and recognizing them will help keep the focus on that, rather than fear and feelings of failure.

4. Find gratitude
Again, to keep the focus on the positive and to keep your mindset in a good place, find gratitude and be thankful for whatever it is you are going through. Be thankful for the journey and all the beauty that comes from struggle and resiliency.

5. Celebrate your successes
Anytime you experience success, no matter how small, celebrate it in some way. Every time I finish a run, I say aloud, "good job Rachel,"and I take a minute or two to FEEL that pride I have for myself. Mental grit isn't about just pushing and pushing, it's also about pausing and thanking.

Remember, mental grit comes from within. Nobody else can give it to us. But with the proper soil, these seeds of resiliency and indomitable spirit will grow and flourish


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