When to “Push Through” (and Gain Mental Toughness)

When to “Push Through” (and Gain Mental Toughness)

When push comes to shove, I’m not always one that embraces the “when to push through” mentality. I’ll admit it–I’m kind of a wimp when it comes to mental toughness!

Now, I’m not putting myself down. I’m very tough when I need to be. I am emotionally strong, funny, brave and smart. Still, when it comes to pain, though, or not feeling well…I’m definitely a creature of comfort.

I don’t like to be uncomfortable. Restrictive clothes drive me crazy. I’ve stopped workouts because I haven’t had the right hair tie (okay, that only happened one-time). I am a mess when I’m sick, and if I’m in pain I have a hard time “pushing through”.

As I’ve been a more regular runner, I’ve started to realize that running is not always easy. In fact, many days I have to push myself at least a little. It’s pretty rare that I “spring joyfully” onto the treadmill with enthusiasm.

Basically, I’ve come up with a litmus test to determine if my body and mind really need a break, or if I just need to suck it up, Buttercup and keep going.

1. Am I over “5” pain?

I’ve had a kidney stone. I once had dry-socket on my wisdom tooth. Sam tore his rotator cuff in college. Think of the worst pain you’ve been in. That’s 10. Now, think of something in the “uncompy” catagory–a hangnail, a paper cut, maybe hair poking you in the eye–that’s 1. Scale your pain. A muscle pull, a side stitch–those are all somewhere around level 3 or 4. You can push through.

If your pain is over level 5 (think, twisted ankle, swelling, bruising, raw blisters) and lasts more than a day or two, it’s probably time to see a doctor to just make sure it doesn’t become a bigger problem. Even mental toughness can’t extinguish physical pain.

2. Can I do anything to make it better?

If you aren’t in terrible pain, but are still uncomfortable enough to consider ending (or not even starting) your workout, it’s time to go Macgyver on the issue. Can you fashion a hair-tie out of your earbuds? Can you run into a park bathroom? Can you take off your socks, underwear (offending article of clothing), tuck it, tie it, or somehow make it work?

Runners have come up with some ingenious solutions when they’re trying to push through to the finish. Sometimes they aren’t glamorous (think squatting in a field) but if it will help you to finish or make it through to the end, then go for it!

3. Can I modify my workout?

Some days, it’s just not happening. There’s no way I’m going to run, or do my 30 Day Shred DVD, or lift weights…whatever. I just can’t do it. You know what I can usually do though? Go for a walk! Even if I’m not feeling 100 percent, I love taking walks with Sam, or even around my office neighborhood. It doesn’t require any special equipment (I do keep pair of flats in my desk), and it clears my head, crosses off my “workout” for the day and helps keep me going.

Sometimes I’m so inspired by actually starting that I’ll ending up doing an actual workout. Usually I just have to bargain with myself to do 10 minutes, and then once I’m going I don’t want to stop.

If you need to push through, here are a few ways that I’ve found to really keep your mental toughness going:

  1. Mind Over Matter

Really focus on the idea that all of your senses are controlled by your brain. If you’re cold, hungry, in pain, it’s not your stomach, your feet or your hands that are really feeling it–they’re sending signals to your mind.

Pain-killers don’t get rid of pain (unlike anti-inflammatories), they instead, raise the feel-good chemicals in your brain so you can deal with the pain. This concept is something to keep in mind if you’re really trying to overlook something that’s hurting. Remember that if your brain feels good, your body can handle the pain.

  1. Listen to Music to Gain Mental Toughness

I have a “motivation mix” on my Spotify–and you should too. Every time I REALLY need to push through, and don’t think I can make it to the end of my race or workout, I pump up the music. Music is a great motivator and helps me to escape and forget about the feelings that I might be having.  I have had some very cathartic experiences while running thanks to music.

  1. Bargain

Agree to just do a little. Focus on the next ten seconds, the next twenty. Tell yourself anyone can do anything for thirty seconds. You can withstand it. You can push yourself for just thirty seconds more, or make it to the lamppost, or the end of the block.

Once you reach your milestone, look for the next milestone. Reward yourself by slowing down, catching your breath, shaking it out, and then see if you can push yourself up the next hill. Don’t focus on how long the route is, or how much time you have left to go. Instead, just focus on mini-goals and pat yourself on the back as you crush each of them along the way!

Push through, embrace your mental toughness! You can do it!

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