“You can do it! You’re looking great! You are really close to your goal!”
These were not loud ringing cheers from the crowd along the Rio de Janeiro Marathon, because there was no crowd. All sensible folks in Rio get up at 10am on a Sunday after a wild party. Those who do get up earlier are skimpily clad, bronzed bodies, enjoying the lovely beaches of Leblon, Ipanema and Copacabana.
These were positive thoughts, self praise—almost narcissistic at times—going through my mind as I plodded on past the 21km mark of the Rio Marathon. Jet lag had taken its toll. Starting out, I thought I was fine; but my body had not adjusted to the new time zone, given the hectic travelling—from Delhi to Bay Area to Sao Paolo and now Rio—over the last five days.
All things bright and beautiful: I was running a marathon in South America—it was part of my goal to complete one on each continent (including Antarctica!) and I had no time to ponder the insanity of my decision now. There I was, contending with calf cramps—I had probably drunk too much water and my salt levels must have gone down a bit.
Despite that, I had a smile on my face as I waved to the odd bystander who looked with curiosity at the straggly line of runners. I kept my mind and eyes trained on the beautiful beaches, on the gorgeous people—and not on how tired I was or how insane I must have been. I had a flight to catch in 3 hours—back to Delhi, via Sao Paolo and Frankfurt—and I had not even finished the marathon yet, having been slowed down by the cramps! So, I had a new goal now—to finish the marathon and make my flight.
Pep talk yourself: Many of us find ourselves in similar situations at our workplaces, or in life in general: We sometimes don’t know why we’ve got to where we are or what we are doing there, but we need to finish, and finish well. And there is no cheerleading team to egg us on; that’s when, I would suggest, you call on your most reliable cheerleading team—yourself.
Positive self-talk can do wonders. It can keep you going through the tough times and the weariness. It can help you achieve what in hindsight you would say had looked impossible. And most importantly, it helps change your attitude over time and gradually impacts others, too.
At an earlier marathon in Chicago, I almost laughed as I crossed a church around mile 24—it had strung up a banner saying, “Runners, the end is nigh!” I remember the smile it brought to my face, which definitely helped me make it for another 500m. After that, though, I focused on self-talk—telling myself that I had to make that surge forward, that I had to look good and strong at the finish line!
Runner’s roadblock: I know when I get my mind, body and soul in harmony, and think positive, nothing is impossible. Times at work are tough, you say; but I can tell you: It does not get much harder than the way a runner feels at the 35km mark in a marathon. You are too far into it to give up, and you are still 7.2km from the finish, which is not too close. That’s when I draw on my reserves of positive thoughts and say, “7km is a cakewalk! Smile, think of the beer at the end of the run, the medal, the smiling faces of strangers lined up at the finish line, and most importantly, the pride in what you are about to accomplish.”
Negative thoughts, focusing on the pain or reiterating that the glass is half empty, are easy to give in to—but they do not help you at all. In fact, often they keep you from achieving what you could. Some friends ask me: “But isn’t this being in denial about the way things are?” I say, thinking negatively will deny me from reaching my goal, and your definition of “being in denial” helps me attain it!
Power of positivity: Last week we had organized a couple of 5km and 10km fun runs in Gurgaon. There were three people who met me afterwards, beaming — they hadn’t thought they could; but they told themselves they would, and did! And that found me beaming inside, because now these three guys are hooked. What’s more, they will continue to experience the power of that positive self-talk as they think back on their achievement of that Saturday, of finishing a 5km run without stopping, and it will help them to tackle lots of other big issues in their lives. So:
• Keep your goal in mind; but you might need to modify it a bit as you go along
• Always stay positive about what you can do, what you have already done and about the goal you have set for yourself
• Be your own best cheerleader
The rest follows easily. When people say, “Wow, you did a great job—I never knew you could!”, you can think to yourself, “I don’t know the meaning of impossible, because I have such a great cheerleading team—me!”
So, start challenging yourself while on a run, at the workplace and in all walks of life—and talk yourself from a flying start to a spectacular finish.
Rahul S. Verghese is a management consultant and founder of Runningandliving.com. Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org