When I passed mile marker 26 I was flying, passing dozens of runners who were suffering horribly by this point. Only 0.2 miles to go. Some chump that I passed took offense. For a hundred meters or so he drafted immediately behind me, no doubt waiting to take me at the finish line with a sprint finish. But, I easily shifted to a higher gear and after about a minute he blew up and was toast. I crossed the finish line like I was finishing a 5K. I was a man on fire!

In her best-seller, Winifred Gallagher states, “that your experience largely depends on the material objects and mental subjects that you choose to pay attention to or ignore is not an imaginative notion, but a physiological fact… Indeed, your ability to focus on this and suppress that is the key to controlling your experience and, ultimately, your well-being.”

That which we concentrate on becomes our reality.

I was determined to enjoy this race, to be in the moment and literally feel good throughout the entire experience. I had run four previous marathons. Each of those had been decidedly unpleasant. This race was going to be different. No matter what.

Prepping for it, I had researched various psychological approaches that other experienced runners had found successful at compartmentalizing their pain and finding a happy place that made the race more bearable, even enjoyable.

What I found and adopted was known as the “teflon” strategy. The idea was to force every negative thought or unpleasant sensation to slide away as though I was covered in teflon. Nothing could stick. Instead I concentrated on things that felt good.

So, as I was gliding along the shore of Lake Champlain in a light drizzle, and mile 15 gave way to 16, then 17, every twinge or doubt that tried to creep in and invade my consciousness slid away. As the miles ticked by, I grew more and more rapt. My attention was totally absorbed by how awesome I felt. As mile marker 24 came into view, I was in one of those mystical “runner’s highs”. I accelerated. Checking my watch at mile 25 I saw that I had run my fastest mile split of the race. Not a single negative thought or any semblance of pain had even tried to probe the perimeter of my focus for the past few miles. I picked up the pace.

Your “experience largely depends on… the mental subjects that you choose to pay attention to or ignore… Indeed, your ability to focus on this and suppress that is the key to controlling your experience and, ultimately, your well-being.”

Let’s absorb that for a moment…

In the context of our fitness and health, what are we focused on? What do we choose to ignore? What dominates our attention?

When our focus is on past failures to lose weight, we’ll feel fat and dejected. When we focus on our physical pain and the dysfunction it causes, we feel fearful, anxious, and limited. When we compare our current selves to our former selves, we will seldom measure up and usually feel inadequate.

Speaking only for myself, I would prefer not to feel fat, dejected, fearful, anxious, limited, and inadequate. Speaking as a coach, I most certainly never want my people to feel that way. 

Rather, I want them to feel empowered, confident, competent, and capable. I choose then to concentrate on the positive and uplifting.

What negative thoughts tend to dominate our focus and attention? Could a teflon strategy help to keep these from sticking?  How would that change our outlook? If our experience of getting back into shape and staying there is positive rather than miserable, how will that effect our desire to stick with it?

It’s something to think about. It could well mean the difference between a long sought breakthrough or failure and dejection.

Be strong, have fun!

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Paul Reilly

Paul is the Owner and Founder of MidStrong. He created MidStrong in 2017 to train men and women in midlife who are busy with work and family to build muscle and burn fat so they can look and feel better than they did in their 20’s. MidStrong is making Functional Fitness training safe and fun, and inclusive. He and his wife, Julie also own and operate MidStrong locally, their bricks and mortar business, previously called ACCELERATED Strength & Balance. It is a boutique fitness center specializing in training folks in and around Westborough through the challenges of midlife for more than five years.