I was running through the forest in Rotorua, as part of the Tawawera Ultramarathon relay yesterday morning, and the course turned from the groomed trails of the Redwood forest to an unforgiving rough single track that ran between the Blue Lake and Okareka. I’m a road runner. I love the trails but if it’s not smooth, straight and well formed then I might as well be hiking. For the most part, the event was completely runnable and it was only this part of the track that was not my cup of tea. I only had around 3.5km to run, and my pace immediately slowed. I had only run 15km – less than a quarter of what most people were out there running as part of the event (that had been shortened from 100k to 70km due the weather)– and my race was almost done. I was really noticing the effects of less than ideal preparation (along with a weight session) in my legs. Negotiating the gnarly, rooted track on fatigued legs that are more used to the camber of the road than the rough of the trail could spell all sorts of trouble. The foreboding threat of a rolled ankle or getting a foot caught under a tree root loomed over me. While I tried to remember the key points for remaining upright on these trails, as taught to me by Rebecca, a good friend who’s second home is on the trails, I realised that the prevailing thought going through my head as I was stepping over the tree roots and diving under branches at a pace almost slower than walking was “I’m so useless on this terrain.” At that moment, though, it dawned on me that I was setting myself up to do the very thing I was trying to avoid. I was at once wishing myself to become a confident, fast-footed, light on my feet trail runner, yet my default thought pattern did not reflect this at all. This realisation brought me back to a simple truth: my thoughts determined my actions; my actions determined the outcome. If I was going to be a flight-of-foot trail runner right then and there, I had to change my mindset.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. With my clients, more often than not the successful ones are those that have a readiness for change. They come to me to learn the tools required to make changes related to diet, but already they’ve taken the most important step. With almost everybody I can tell within the first fifteen minutes whether or not they have the right mindset to make a change to their diet. Doctor’s referrals aside, it might seem strange that someone would visit a nutritionist voluntarily and not actually want dietary advice. But it does happen. Sometimes it’s because their friends have come along and have recommended they come along too. Sometimes it’s because seeing a nutritionist ‘is the thing to do’ or because they ‘know they should do something’ with their diet. And sometimes they want to want to change their diet, but when push comes to shove they are not willing to make the changes necessary to put the plan into place. With clients like these, their success doesn’t lie with meal choices or the variety of foods as part of their overall plan – these things are a given as part of a consultation. The real success comes from drawing a line in the sand and deciding to change the way they think; without this, the best, most varied, most convenient plan ever created will not be enough to help them meet their dietary goals.
Our mindset is almost always the default. Is your glass half empty or half full? Do you see a challenge as an opportunity to succeed or another for you to fail? Do you wake up feeling burdened by all that you’re trying to achieve for the day, or excited by the opportunities that exist? Do you attribute other’s success to their innate characteristics (“it’s in their genes”) that are beyond your control and out of your reach? This is how we view the world. The best piece of advice I have had recently is that I need to change the Youtube clip that is running in my head telling me that I can’t do it. My thoughts determined my actions, and my actions determined the outcomes. Once I realised this then anything is possible. If you’re anything like me, the Youtube clip related to my ability to run on trails has been on replay for 20 years since I tried to keep up with Rebecca and Rachel in the relatively easy trails of Ross Creek; in other, more important areas of my life there is a version of that Youtube clip related to an offhand comment that has stayed with me and informs my thoughts and actions today. It’s only now that I am realising this and ultimately how powerful these instances are at determining how we feel and what we do. A lot of people I talk to about diet, health, weight loss or exercise have their version of the clip. They’ve always believed they are fat because their mother told them so; they don’t recognise their talent at a particular skill they have because someone else was always praised over and above them; they don’t believe they can lose weight because past history shows they’ve never succeeded before (and it’s their fault).
Being aware that this is a mindset that can be changed over time is the first and most important step to becoming who you want to be. For those people who are at the cusp of making a change in their life then this will remove the roadblock they might not even realize is there. But if they begin to believe it is possible, then this will pave the way for the next step. It might be a small shuffle, or it might be a giant leap; regardless of the size, it will be in the right direction. For me, in this particular moment on that trail in the last section of the race, I realised I had to quickly adopt a different thought pattern to successfully negotiate the trail and not come at it from a place of fear but from a place of confidence. I started repeating in my head that I was “fit, fast, healthy, strong” and that “this was my terrain.” I noticed an immediate shift in my mindset by repeating these statements over and over – but more importantly I felt lighter on my feet and more confident in my footing. While this hasn’t magically transformed me into a trail running mountain goat, this illustrated to me just how powerful my mindset was at determining my confidence on the trail and my subsequent enjoyment of the overall event. Your thoughts determine your actions. Your actions determine the outcome. Is it time you changed that Youtube clip?
(PS I now have a facebook page: facebook.com/mikkiwillidennutrition – come over and join the conversation about whole food and health 🙂 )