The Extra Mile of Mind and Process

Photo by Josh Gordon on Unsplash

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During the lockdown, like many others, I took the occasion for some running around. I’m not a runner, and it shows. However, that was only one more reason to do it.

I’m terrible at endurance sports. Probably bad at endurance in life, so some exercise could only do me good.

And it did.

At first, after a few hundred meters, I always thought that I was going to die. I’m not out of shape. I do some rock climbing and workouts. But running burns my oxygen faster than my subscriptions burn my money.

My wife, on the contrary, is good at it, and she was able to reach a specific target place, and even go beyond.

Of course, who am I for not being able to reach that place myself? Not because of competition with my wife, but because of competition with myself.

After a few attempts, maybe I was in better shape, but still inadequate for the goal. However, I wanted to go there. It was only 5 kilometers (3 miles). I had to do it.

Fortunately, one day I had not legs enough, but the right mindset.

After only a few minutes, as usual, I was short of breath, with heavy legs, but I remembered what one of my fitness icons says: “The mind controls the body.” It’s Arnold Schwarzenegger. You may like him or not, but you can bet he knows what it means. The body tells you that the game is over much before the game is really over. Growth happens when the mind takes control and pushes your body to its real limits, beyond fatigue and pain.

When the going gets tough, you feel that you have enough of it. And that’s precisely the point where choice kicks in. To keep going or to stop. You either decide that you continue until you’re truly finished or that you withdraw. Continuing is a sacrifice, and you can fail, but it also gives you the chance to improve, and eventually succeed. You can’t always withdraw. Especially given that others won’t.

Deciding that that day I would withstand fatigue till my legs could move has been the first good move.

That had little to do with motivation. I had to keep being stronger than my body till the target place, second by second. It was not about the goal. It was about decision and will. It was about clarity and control. Mind over body. Will over resistance. It was not about the purpose, it was about having the mind deciding, not the machine. It was not forcing – I wouldn’t last more than a minute by it. It was about doing what I wanted to do, beyond resistance, letting anything else go.

Still, my breath was short. You cannot overcome that with just will. You must cope with the reality of your metabolism. You must slow down and reach a balance, and keep it.

You may imagine yourself winning as much as you want, but it won’t happen without the work in the middle. It won’t happen without a process—consistent action in a direction. The purpose not being a distant thing, but the mold of your steps.

And I remember any other challenge in my life. Success wasn’t about imagining myself as a writer, but about writing, possibly every single day. It wasn’t imagining myself releasing the next successful product. It was about making the right decisions and work every single day until completion, and beyond. You need decisions and you need to push, of course. But if you don’t focus on the process, on the next move that fits the purpose, if you focus too much on the goal, you just succumb under the weight of your challenge.

You need a sustainable balance. You need this step, but you’ll also need energies for another step after that, and then another, and another. Sprints are exceptions. When you rely on sprints, you’ve already lost.

So, I slowed down a bit, still pushing but not so much as not to take my breath away. I meticulously focused on keeping a balance.

On the side, enjoying the environment was part of that balance.

Still, it was a painful balance. My legs were burning and seemed not to move. But they were moving enough. I desperately needed air, that didn’t seem to get to my lungs fast enough.

So, I let my new mantra support my run. Mind over body. Process over goal.

Mind and process.

I reached a first bridge, a milestone. Then a second bridge, another milestone. Then a third. I was way beyond what I had been able to do in the previous attempts. And the target place came in sight.

But I was nearly dead. I felt like I couldn’t take one more step.

I was saying myself: “it’s right there, you can do it!” But a few hundred meters seemed infinite, and impossible.

And I realized that I was felling into the trap exactly in the most crucial part of the path. The trap of the goal.

The process had brought me there. The moment the goal was nearer was exactly the moment to resist the temptation of motivating myself with that. The goal, the anticipation of a victory that is not there already, would be a dangerous distraction. It would kill the process.

Those last meters are precisely the meters where remaining present is crucial.

So, I returned to focus on the process, running at my best, slowly, meter by meter.

Failure was an option. Abandoning the process or letting my body decide weren’t.

And I got there. And that’s one of the best gifts I’ve made to myself in the last months. And I did it again, afterward.

Some training was there, of course, and made it possible. Previous attempts and failures made it possible. But them alone would let me fail again, that day, because of the barrier of pain and performance anxiety. Releasing anything, except will and process, is what helped me to make it and go beyond my perceived limits. Being present to my process has been key.

I even enjoyed the run, and that alone matters. I didn’t use or spend 35 minutes. I’ve lived 35 minutes. With the bonus of the success.

I still suck as a runner. But proving myself to be able to do the extra mile is way more important.

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