If the statistics are right, the large majority of us who set New Years resolutions will abandon them by the time we reach February. It’s amazing how quickly we can go from inspired to indifferent. A bad case of motivational whiplash, our good intentions dissolve amidst the chaos and concern of everyday life. If that sounds like you, don’t worry, you’re not alone.
One of the major culprits that steals away our inspiration to take on new running goals is boredom. When we decide we to tackle our first 5K or finally knock the marathon off our bucket list, the first couple of weeks of training is often fresh and exciting, maybe even effortless at times. Soon enough, however, we begin to feel stuck—backed into a corner by a tedious routine we’ve committed to that doesn’t always feel like very much fun.
The driver behind that boredom is a lack of engagement in the process of training. We often approach running rather mindlessly, simply looking to plow through and check a workout off our to-do list rather than really immerse ourselves in the activity. It’s like you are literally running on autopilot. Interestingly, research suggests that we spend around half of our waking hours lost in thought—ruminating, planning, worrying—which causes us to miss the intricacies of what’s happening right in front of us. The result? Boredom and stress.
So what can you do to fight boredom and inject some new life into that training goal? Mindfulness is good place to start. At its core, mindfulness is attention training. It’s about bringing awareness to the present moment, training ourselves to notice when our minds have wandered, and gently guiding it back to the present. In paying attention to the task that is directly in front of us, we gain a greater appreciation for the richness of our experiences.
When I spoke with Dean Karnazes for my new book, Mindful Running, he told me this: “Running can be really boring, but boring is good. I think people need to shift their paradigm of boring.”
What runners like Karnazes have discovered is that when you peel back the layers and really tune into the panorama of the running experience, it’s not all that boring after all. One of the big keys to mindful running is curiosity. When you bring an inquisitive and attentive mind to the training process, you notice things about each run that are anything but mundane.
Take 10,000-meter Olympian Alexi Pappas’ approach. She is charged with racing 25 laps around a 400-meter track and says bringing curiosity to the moment is essential.
“I never get bored,” she told me. “I count laps and try to watch myself running the race as I’m running it—to almost amuse myself while everything is unfolding.”
So how might you leverage mindfulness to fight boredom on the run? Start with the following scanning exercises. You could spend a few minutes doing these at the beginning of every run or choose certain runs to devote to a mindfulness practice. As you move through each scan, try to keep you mind on the task at hand. If you get distracted, all mindfulness requires is for you to notice you’ve wandered and gently redirect back to the present. No harm done. These can be done in a wide variety of settings, just make sure you maintain an open awareness for safety.
Remember that in the beginning, keeping your mind on the present moment during these exercises can be especially difficult. Our culture trains us to constantly seek distraction. With that said, the field of contemplative neuroscience suggests that even a short-term mindfulness practice has the power to change the structure and function of the brain, essentially making present-moment awareness more second nature with training.
- Environmental Scan
- Bring awareness to your surroundings while you lace up your shoes.
- As you get moving, spend a moment engaging each of your five senses to get a full picture of your environment.
- Body Scan
- Start by bringing awareness to the top of your head and scan down, over your face, your jaw, your neck, and shoulders.
- If you notice tension, bring your attention to it and see if you can get it to relax.
- Bring awareness to your arms and legs as they move.
- Continue scanning down until you reach your toes.
- Mind Scan
- Identify the three thoughts that are most top of mind.
- Take stock of the pace of your thinking. Is your mental weather calm today or hurried and frantic?
- As thoughts pop into your head, see if you can simply label them, “that’s me worrying” or “that’s me planning” and then redirect your attention to your breath or your footfall.
- Continue anchoring your attention to your breath or footfall for the rest of the run or as long as you’re comfortable doing so.