Healthy Habits, Self-care, Transformation

8 Mental Benefits of Running or How Running Transformed My Life

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If I told you that running almost daily helped completely transform my life, would you believe me? Because it did. Running outside every day, no matter the weather, forces me to put into practice all the self-management skills I’m learning. It’s also the very thing that gives me enough mental strength to “manage” myself even better throughout the day. Overall, the mental benefits of running are nothing to scoff at.

Let’s face it, cultivating mental fitness can be life-changing but, like most things worth pursuing, it can be difficult to achieve. I mean, running every day (or many times per week) is challenging for most people, and it takes commitment.

But beyond the numerous physical health benefits, running has impacted even the way I think, speak to, and “negotiate” with myself.

Here are a few ways how running has benefited me mentally, and changed my mindset.

Allow me to present some mental benefits of running and show you 5 specific ways running has contributed to my mental transformation.

1. Running teaches you to persevere in other areas of your life

Life lesson_running 3

Also, practice (and perseverance) makes perfect.

Or as Harv Eker puts it: “Every master was once a disaster”.

This means, don’t give up on something too soon or in the beginning only because you (think you) suck at it or it feels too hard. Especially if it’s something you want to do or think might be good for your health.

Give it time, and consistency.

If, and only if, after a couple of months of consistent efforts (I’d say, at least 3 times a week) you see no progress at all and you still absolutely hate it or it’s causing you harm, then you can give up.

Quitting before that will only guarantee that you keep missing on opportunities that could have otherwise changed your life.

2. It’s not about what you like, it’s about what you want

Between the ages of 15 to 31, I was certain I hated running.

I was convinced it was not a sport for me: I was ‘not good at it’, I didn’t experience pleasure doing it and for the life of me, I could not understand why anyone would wake up one day and decide to go for a run. Then again I had only tried a few times here and there in high school, and only because I was forced to do it.

Fast-forward 15 years later, I started running. Why running? Well, for a bunch of random reasons but I will not bore you with the details here. Let’s just say it was my only option and I was desperate.

During the first days, desperation was my main motivator. It was either this or death (I’m not being overly dramatic here).

So I persevered.

I woke up every day and went for a run. It was my only non-negotiable goal for the day. It didn’t matter if the rest of my days were still crappy, my mornings were all the same: wake up, drink water, eat a banana, put on my running shoes, and go.

After a couple of months, something extraordinary happened. I started to want to run.

I had formed a habit. By consistently doing the same things in the same order every day (well, almost every day), I had conditioned myself, and formed a new habit!

Suddenly, on days when I didn’t run, something was missing: I had an urge, an itch to put on my shoes and run.

Was I starting to enjoy this?? But I thought I hated it!?

And so I started taking it more and more seriously, running a minimum of 4 times per week. For the first time in years, I was proud of myself. Fast forward just 3 months later, and I could run 10k!

3. Whatever you try to do in life, the first 2 miles suck the most

Life lesson_running

Do you have any idea how many things I’ve stopped doing or stopped myself from doing because I thought I wasn’t good at it?? Or because it was hard?

After having witnessed that small miracle (mentionned in point 2.), I started doing other new things, challenging myself more and more in different areas and learning to stick to things: learning a new language, learning new skills, exploring new professions, even starting my own business after having spent my whole life believing I was not an entrepreneur. Turns out, I am. It doesn’t matter if the business itself fails, I learned new things about myself and that is priceless. 

The hardest part in almost anything is to start. This has been one of the most important mental shifts running has brought me.

4. You must push through the hard stuff to reach the next level, or you’ll stay stuck. Or worst, decline.

Running lessons

Running has taught me to keep pushing for the next level.

It has also made it pretty clear to me that when I’m not going forward, I’m going backward. And in case you’re wondering, stagnating is going backward.

And that’s because, after a few weeks of running, I noticed that I had reached a plateau: I was stagnating at around 3-4 km/per run. At first, I thought it was fine. I wasn’t interested in running a marathon or anything like that.

But after a few weeks/couple of months of this, my fitness level started to decline.

Thankfully, the light finally came on. And so one day, I decided that I would reach 5.5 km in a single run even if I had to die in that park trying.

And so I tried. But at around 4.4k, the pain in my right ankle was beginning to worry me and I was afraid of an injury. I was also painfully out of breath. But then I told myself that I would keep going just a little bit more… up to that tree over there.

… Up to that bench?

… Ok, now that bush?

running in winter

And I kept going! And a few amazing things happened.

First, after a couple of minutes, I stopped feeling the pain in my ankle!? I could not believe or understand it.

Also, and for the first time, I didn’t stop to walk. Because, up until that point I was not able to just run. I had to run for a bit, then walk for a bit, then run for a bit, then walk, etc.

But the most incredible thing was that I was no longer out of breath! It’s as if my lungs had broken some sort of barrier. For the last 3 months I had been s-t-r-u-g-g-l-i-n-g with breathing while running (maybe my fellow smokers can relate?). And here I was running like a gazelle, no longer feeling out of breath when 2 minutes before that I was panting like a, um, dog??

I was AMAZED… and a little freaked out.

Now, I’ll be honest, I then spent the next 48 hours mostly sleeping and eating. I could literally feel my muscles rebuilding themself. I was exhausted.

But guess what? The second time I ran that 5.5 km, it was way easier than the first + no pain. I hardened my body and I had created a new standard for myself, a new normal. I was now someone who could run 5.5 km.

Life lesson_running 2

There comes a point in everything we do where we reach a certain level and then we get stuck. That’s because moving forward involves some level of effort or pain (and fear).

When that moment comes, we can either choose fear and settle for comfort, i.e., stagnate (and eventually regress), or we push through and move up to the next level.

The problem is, that usually entails a certain amount of pain that we are unwilling to go through, even if that ‘pain’ simply means the discomfort of giving up a newfound ‘comfort zone’.

6. Don’t anticipate the outcome, because whatever you’re thinking right now, you are probably wrong

Do you know how many times I went for a run thinking that I was too tired and that I would probably only last 100 meters… Only to have the best-run-EVER once I went (!?).

Too many times for me to keep count.

I used to think I was pretty good at anticipating outcomes or other people’s feelings and behaviors. And I guess I became complacent.

Running changed all of that.  

I cannot tell you the number of times I woke up and felt too tired, too sore, or not rested enough to have a decent workout. Or that there was no way I could run on my period; I was in so much pain!

I was convinced that if I was not feeling optimal, my workout would be terrible. Why even bother to go then?

The thing is if you are minimally serious about running, or if you are minimally serious about any type of exercise for that matter, you will have to run when you are tired and sore.

Because the truth is if you wait to be refreshed and 100 % pain-free and fully recovered from your previous workouts to exercise, you will most likely run only once or twice every two weeks or so. And if you do that, you will quickly notice that you systematically lose the progress you make.

Basically, you’ll be starting from scratch. Every. Single. Time.  

So after missing a few runs, I stopped doing that and got out of bed despite feeling crappy. I’d rather have a shitty run than lose all my progress.

Well, you know what? Turns out that 9 times out of 10, I was wrong. Those days usually turned out to be some of my best workouts.

I still can’t explain why,  everytime I think I can’t, my body deliveres beyond my expectations. Not only am I able to give 200% more than what I think I’m capable of, but I also go farther than the days where I’m not tired.

Whaaat??

Key takeaways:

  • At least try before saying you can’t. Even when you are certain you can’t.
  • How often do we not do something because we think that we are too tired, that we will suck, or we simply don’t feel like it? Thanks to running I’ve learned that a little pain, not feeling like it or doubting myself are never good enough reasons for me to not do the things I said I would do, or at least try.
  • And just because I think I cannot do something, it doesn’t mean that I actually can’t. That is a very powerful and liberating belief.
  • Now, I give a lot less importance to self-doubt and negative self-talk. I try to not think so much about the outcome, but I simply go for the things I want and give my best.

Related post: Want to start running during the winter months? Read this.

7. No matter what you try to achieve, consistency is key

As mentioned in the previous section, when working out or in this case, running, you quickly learn that if you stop for too long, you have to start all over again.

It (almost) didn’t matter how much progress I made: if I stopped for 4 days or more… it was back to square one.  Well, maybe not square one but you’d be surprised how quickly all your progress goes away.

After a few weeks of running, it all finally became so clear: I was already doing all the right things to get better (on my journey to overcome addiction and depression).

I was listening to positive audio, meditating, cooking my own meals, exercising, speaking to my family on the phone instead of avoiding contact, journaling, etc.

The problem was that I was not being consistent at all. I was doing them one week, and then forgetting about them the next two weeks.

As a result, my efforts were systematically wiped out… by me! By my own laziness.

That sudden realization brought me back to the five (yes, FIVE) excruciating years I had spent working on (or should I say, dying on) my thesis: writing a little, then stopping for a few weeks, then writing a bit more, then stopping again… And how every time I would go back to it, it felt like I was starting all over again.

By becoming serious about running, I finally noticed, and understood, all of that.

Life lesson_running

In my home country, we have a saying that could be translated as follows: it’s like washing your hands and wiping them on the floor.

That was precisely what I had been doing for (at least) the last 10 years of my life!

I must say, it was a apinful realization. But thankfully, I got over it and decided: no more! And that’s how I put being consistent at the top of my priority list for the next few months (years now).

Beginning with running.

I didn’t change overnight. And still, struggle with this. But within 3 months of deciding to be more consistent, I was able to achieve more progress in regards to my mental health for example, than I have in the past two years (!).

Key takeway:

If you decide to do it, you must commit. You can’t half-ass it.

8. Progress is happiness

As you can probably tell by now, running has significantly changed my perspective on so many things.

By being consistent in my efforts and keeping at it, I was able to achieve progress I had never thought possible.

With every week passing, I could see not only progress but also the very tangible results.

Not only was I doing the things I never thought I could do, but I was becoming better at them.

I was keeping promises made to myself even though there was no one watching but me.

And I slowly started to rediscover feelings I had long forgotten about. Feelings like pride and self-respect.

With those new feelings emerging, my self-image (or identity) slowly began to shift too. I was proving to myself I could succeed at something all on my own, and despite not being ‘good’ at it at first.

I slowly started to gain confidence in my abilities, which is something I was never really able to do in the past. And now, I feel more open to new experiences, even scary ones because I believe I can become good at, and enjoy things, even if at first I perform poorly. With practice and a bit of effort, I can always get better.  

Key takeaway:

When you make progress, you become proud of yourself and it positively impacts your self-esteem.

Important life-lessons and Mental benefits of running

  • Running has taught me that it’s not simply about aiming higher, it’s about keeping on aiming higher, even after you’ve reached your initial goal.
  • In other words: No pain, no gain.
  • Or, It gets worse before it gets better.
  • Or to borrow Jonh C. Maxwell’s words: “You have to give up to go up”.
  • The point is, stop avoiding the pain; push through the pain. Then rest, and reward yourself.
  • At least try before saying you can’t. Even when you are certain you can’t.
  • How often do we not do something because we think that we are too tired, that we will suck, or we simply don’t feel like it? Thanks to running I’ve learned that a little pain, not feeling like it or doubting myself are never good enough reasons for me to not do the things I said I would do, or at least try.
  • And just because I think I cannot do something, it doesn’t mean that I actually can’t. That is a very powerful and liberating belief.
  • Now, I give a lot less importance to self-doubt and negative self-talk. I try to not think so much about the outcome, but I simply go for the things I want and give my best.
  • If you decide to do it, you must commit. You can’t half-ass it.
  • When you make progress, you become proud of yourself and it positively impacts your self-esteem.

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About Steph

I am a personal growth/self-management enthusiast. I was able to completely transform my life using everything I share here. I hope this blog helps you transform yours as well.
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