I run. Not fast and not very far, but frequently enough to notice how sometimes it feels effortless (dare I say enjoyable) and sometimes it feels as if the oxygen’s been sucked out of the air and it’s up hill there and back.
There will be no difference in the set up; my diet remains pretty much constant, I’m hydrated, I’ve had the same amount of sleep, I’m not injured, the route is the identical, and the weather doesn’t really affect me (so long as it’s not boiling hot).
Spoiler alert – it’s all in the mind.
Of course it is. I’m not going to pretend this is a breakthrough revelation. It’s why sports psychology is a thing. It’s why Andy Murray says there’s nothing to distinguish the skill level at the top of the game, it’s all about how the players cope under pressure.
Now I’ve established myself on a level with Andy Murray, I can speak about this with more confidence. Sometimes I run like the wind, and other times every step feels exhausting. It’s because of what’s going on in my head. If I’m unhappy, or anxious, or I’ve got stuff I’m trying to work out, it’s hard. If things are going well, I’m excited about something, or simply calm, the running is a joy and I can go for miles.
It’s the same with the rest of our lives – work, living with our families, living on our own, being out with friends, queueing at the station. If you’re feeling up, the world is easy to navigate. If you’re not, it’s hard. You make mistakes and assume the worst.
The thing is, that when you’re in that negative place – when you can’t get served, when your friend hasn’t rung, when your neighbour ignores your hello, when the ache in your back is definitely going to require an operation – it’s hard to remember or even believe all these events are bad because of the thoughts around them. It seems to you, at that moment, that these happenings are bad because that is the objective, quantifiable, enduring truth.
The truth is (and we all know this, we just need to be reminded from time to time) there’s life and there’s the gloss we put on life. The thinking we do around what we have, do, believe, desire, crave, despise and fear is what makes it exhausting and hard. Sure, shit happens, difficult upsetting hideous shit sometimes and experiencing it will be exhausting and painful. But it’s been well established for thousands of years that if you take away the extra thinking, or even recognise the extra thinking for what it is, life becomes a whole lot easier to manage.
Can you think of a moment today when you have felt joy or sorrow? Now try to describe what happened as neutrally as possible? What extra thoughts have you created about that event – projecting into the future, drawing on the past, other people’s views etc? What impact did this extra thinking have on your mood?