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Putting Mental Tricks From Running to Work in the Rest of Your Life

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This week, Serena Solomon wrote about how she borrowed tactics and techniques from the world of sports psychology for childbirth.

I’ve never given birth, but it had me thinking about ways I’ve translated my running life into my normal life, especially to get through the tedious and sometimes painful parts. Of course it’s well known that sports help develop qualities many of us draw on every day, like confidence and determination. But athletes also use specific strategies that can cross over.

Here are the two tactics I use most: bracing and mindfulness.

I knew the weather for the Blues Cruise 50K in October was going to be wretchedly hot, but instead of crossing my fingers and hoping for a sudden cold blast, I acknowledged that it was going to be bad. That’s bracing.

“The more discomfort an athlete expects, the more she can tolerate, and the more discomfort she can tolerate, the faster she can go,” Matt Fitzgerald wrote about bracing in “How Bad Do You Want It: Mastering the Psychology of Mind Over Muscle.” It’s also just smart. I made sure my hydration and fueling plan matched the extra strain heat and humidity would put on my body (and I set a new personal record by 70 minutes).

I do this all the time in my everyday life: acknowledging how something I’m about to face — a tense conversation, going to the grocery store before a snowstorm — is going to stink, and do what I can to prepare for the experience. I hate going to the dentist, so I brought headphones to my last cleaning. Even though I didn’t end up using them (they showed HGTV on an overhead TV screen — does any property flop in “Flip or Flop”?), at least I knew I was prepared in case I needed the help.

I do this most by focusing on my breathing. Not only does this help me physically at the end of a fast interval or a grueling race, but it also helps me mentally as well. At the end of the 2016 New Jersey Marathon, where I knew I was within sight of a new personal record, and I screamed down the Long Branch Boardwalk hoping I could keep it together until I crossed the finish line, I focused on my breathing. That helped flatten out my mind and acknowledge any doubts about reaching my goal — then flick them away.

When people can watch experiences come and go instead of grabbing them and allowing those thoughts to spin out into anxiety, they can shift their focus to their performance, according to Keith Kaufman, a Washington, D.C.-area psychologist who spoke on mindfulness in sports at the American Psychological Association’s annual convention in 2017.

“For example, an athlete could identify that ‘right now, I’m having the thought that I can’t finish this race,’ so rather than reflecting an objective truth, it’s seen as just a thought,” he said.

I use this the most with uncomfortable medical experiences, like having blood drawn or being stuffed inside an M.R.I. machine. I focus on the air going in and out of my body, and it helps me acknowledge the pain, accept it, and get through it until it’s over.

What parts of your running life have you applied to your life outside it? Let me know — I’m on Twitter @byjenamiller. We’re about to be socked with a storm here on the East Coast. How are you getting your workouts in? Let me know that too (the trail race I was supposed to run on Sunday has already been postponed — and I can’t blame them).

Also this week, we ran a story about a picture of an egg that became Instagram’s most liked image ever. The New York Road Runners decided to put their own spin on it, which made me smile. Running is challenging and sometimes mentally and physically draining, but it should be fun too, which this very much is.

Using Sports Psychology for Childbirth

How Exercise May Help Keep Our Memory Sharp

WADA Still Waiting for Russia to Live Up to Its Promises

A ‘Sentimental Journey’ in the Cancer Clinic

The N.F.L.’s Obesity Scourge

What We Learned From Testing 1,000 Headphones

For Katelyn Ohashi, Viral Gymnastics Joy Was No Act

Run Well!

— Jen

Jen A. Miller is the author of “Running: A Love Story.

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