Have you ever been on a run with several miles to go, zone out for a bit, then take a peek at your watch and see you’re only a half mile from home? Or maybe you’re out on a ride, feeling the sun on your back, the wind on your face and suddenly you’re pulling up to your front door? What about counting laps for warm up and suddenly you’re counting laps of cool down?
If so, lucky!
If not, don’t worry!
Many times, these effortless training sessions are few and far between. They’re the feeling we’re all chasing: the runs/rides/swims that are actually fun, you feel strong, and they breeze by leaving you wanting more. Well, thankfully there are some mental cues we can use to help make these elusive workouts less like Sasquatch.
Go with the Flow
Flow, or “being in the zone”, is where time seems to speed up, and perceived effort lessens. You feel great, it feels easy, its done before you know it and you feel strong and successful.
Training your mind is equally if not more important than training your body, and the more you practice, the better you’ll get at inducing flow. I won’t lie, finding the flow definitely will take some mental focus and trial and error, but once you get the hang of it your long, boring, painful training sessions will seem to just fly by, and you may even learn to like them.
1. Quit Thinking
Stop thinking about how much your chosen activity sucks, how much your body hurts, how far you’ve got left to go, and everything else. Just stop thinking. Let yourself experience the present moment as it is. Feel your legs moving, feel your hands, feel your lungs expanding and contracting, feel the weather and the breeze you create. Relax into the movement and enjoy it.
2. Let go of Expectations
If you expect it’s going to suck, it will suck. Don’t place any expectations on yourself or your workouts. Stick to the facts: You have to run X number of miles, swim X number of yards, etc. so that’s what you’ll do. You won’t be amazing, you won’t fail, you’ll just do it and get it done. This practice builds on the tip above, and can help you quiet your mind before you even get out the door.
3. Go it Alone
A state of flow is most easily achieved with no distractions, and that means no buddies. Let yourself fully experience the action by avoiding things that might put your focus back on the difficulty of the task at hand. You can control your own thoughts, but when your friend breaks the silence with “Man, this sucks!” It’s really hard not to agree. This doesn’t mean you’ll be a loner forever, you can get back with friends once you have a foundation built up enough to counter any negativity.
4. Try Music
For some, this might completely contradict the tip above, but for others it just might be the trigger you need. This obviously won’t work swimming unless you have some serious tech (the water is music anyway right?!) but depending on the individual, music might be enough of a distraction from distractions (ex: the “this sucks” brain) to actually help push you into a state of flow. Try and choose upbeat songs that you easily get lost in or feel inspired during, turn up the volume and go. *Safety Alert: If you’re trying music while riding, always leave your left earbud out so you can hear approaching vehicles.
5. Keep Going
And keep going. Be organized with your workout plan and route ahead of time so you don’t have to use extra brain effort pulling an audible. Any unplanned changes are things that can kick you right back out of that flow mindset. While you practice, choose flat running and riding routes with few to no traffic stops, or maybe a long course pool day with fewer turns to break your cadence up. Shoot for a steady yet challenging pace and keep it throughout your entire session.
You might just look at your watch in the first five minutes, and then completely zone out until you magically reappear at your front door.