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Dr Libby Watson is a Chartered Clinical Psychologist in the UK, offering psychological therapy through www.tri-psychology.co.uk
Tri-Psychology could help you gain a better understanding of your emotions; identify and challenge unhelpful thinking and behaviour; offer alternatives to restricted patterns of relating to others (and yourself), and foster increased self-compassion and acceptance in your life.
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I have been a runner as long as I have been a psychologist. Both these passions of mine, I believe, contain profound lessons in ways that we can live well, live full, live long. So without further ado here are 7 things that running has taught me about how to live (backed up by psychology):
#1 Just do it!
Don’t wait for ‘motivation’ or ‘feeling like it’ to get going. It might never happen! Feelings come as a result of the doing. Instead, make your environment help you form the habits you want to adopt: diarise it; find a run buddy; put your kit out ready; think how you will feel if you don’t keep to your plan...
#2 Monitor yourself:
Plan ahead; set goals; record your progress. Research shows that self-monitoring has a powerful impact on (positively) changing the very thing that is being recorded.
#3 Be realistic, and kind to yourself:
Whilst expectations can drive you forward, in some cases they can hold you back. Notice if you are governed by lots of ‘shoulds’; this could be a sign that your expectations are too high, rigid or unrealistic. This can lead to a downward cycle of disappointment, frustration, impaired performance and may even cause overtraining injuries.
Listen to your body, not just your mind. Maybe you need a rest day? Maybe 20 minutes running will actually serve you better on a day you had planned twice that.
#4 Run free:
If you find yourself a slave to your Garmin or Strava trackers (or you identified with tip #3), give the watch a break. When unconstrained by time we can better tune into our bodies and our environment, running as we feel and experiencing the rich sensory experience that running outside has to offer.
#5 Mix it up:
It could be songs on a playlist or the routes you run, if you find yourself bored then make a change. Small changes reap big effects; just pressing the shuffle button or reversing a route can provide you a whole new experience.
#6 Feeling down, stressed, anxious?
Doctors actually ‘prescribe’ exercise as a first-line treatment for some mental health difficulties. Research suggests that fast, tempo-type sessions may alleviate anxiety, whilst long distance running can be an antidote to depression.
But be aware that whilst it’s good to run, don’t run away: if you are running to stop yourself thinking or replacing emotional pain with physical pain and exhaustion, your running may be an escape or avoidance strategy. This may temporarily help but it may be delaying you addressing issues that may need your attention, causing more problems for you in the longer-term.
#7 You don’t have to do it alone…
Running with others feeds our inbuilt need to belong. Even if all you say to a fellow runner relates to hazards / weather / hills - or nothing at all but a silent acknowledgement that you are part of the same ‘club’ - there is a sense of sharing and connectedness with your fellow human beings.
People also naturally find a rhythm when running with others, which in the right circumstances can help you push harder and run faster than you might have alone.
For me, running is intrinsically rewarding - my reward is the pleasure and satisfaction I derive from the activity itself. In times when it’s tough and unpleasant though, I remind myself that there is always cake!