You step on a treadmill and get into a groove after a long day at work. Thoughts of your looming to-do list might be racing through your head. Or maybe you’re stressing about family or financial issues. And before you know it, you’ve forgotten you’re even there, pounding away on that rubber strip like a mindless robot.
Like most people, you probably want to take your mind far away from the excruciatingly slow-ticking clock before you. But tuning into your feelings while working out is hugely beneficial to your mental and physical health. It provides an opportunity to reconnect with a piece of you that might have gotten lost amid your hectic life and puts you on track to achieve your goals.
Of course, it’s not always easy to process the sweat pouring from your face, your pumping heart rate, and loud breathing and fathom what it all means. And with the omnipresence of media and entertainment and the piling stresses of daily life, distractions are almost impossible to ignore. But by focusing on the now, you can come back down to reality and start making the most of your workouts.
What Will This Do For Me?
Checking in, even in a brutally hard workout, helps you gain a keener sense of how hard you’re working physically and in a broader context. When I remain in the moment, I can ask myself whether I’m benefitting from the activity at hand. In terms of exercise, I can more accurately gauge where I am: Is my heart rate up? Am I breathing harder? Am I challenging myself or plateauing?
While running mile 16 in an IRONMAN triathlon, I became so displaced that I failed to notice a woman spectator running next to me. She was telling me to smile because I had this amazing opportunity, and that connection brought me back to a present state and forced a smile across my face. Instead of trudging through the marathon portion and dwelling on the pain of it all, I realized it was a blessing and completely turned around my state of mind.
How Can I Be More Mindful?
By bringing awareness into your workouts, you can stimulate your mind and body instead of taking part in a mindless routine. Here are three ways you can be more mindful:
1. Drown Out Your Thoughts
In our always-on society, no matter where you are, you’re probably connected to a device. Even outdoor noises like cars rushing by and strangers conversing can be distracting.
Because we’ve become so obsessed with thinking about other things, our minds often take over and pull us away from the moment. And in a snap, the moment has passed, and we can’t recall it.
If you want to tap into your unconscious mind, you have to quiet your thoughts. This quiet time allows you to use your mind rather than let your mind use you.
2. Build a Ritual
Establishing rituals is a great way to train your unconscious mind to be more present. Setting up a ritual can calm an overactive brain, even if it’s something as simple as dimming the lights. As humans, we respond to rituals because they take the worry about “what comes next” out of the equation and allow us to focus on what really matters.
Meditation is powerful — and not just from a spirituality standpoint. It’s an amazing tool that gives you the chance to connect with something bigger than yourself; it just requires some willingness. As your breathing becomes slower and more deliberate, your anxieties slip away. Meditating before or after a workout for just five minutes can help you refocus and remind you of what you’re doing and why. Don’t just go through the motions; actually be there.
When I’m mentally present during a workout, I think about different parts of my body in a connected way. How do my ankles feel? How does it feel when I break a sweat? This adds a whole new mind-body connection that’s induced by the exercise. It’s not even emotional; it’s a gauge or checkpoint for how I’m feeling.
Of course, you’ll inevitably have days when you hit the pavement and use the stress and tension as fuel to push yourself. And when being unmindful can help you get through a slump, it can have a positive impact. But as long as you recognize that distractions are everywhere — and you hold the mental capacity to get back on track — you can start putting mind over body and make your workouts worthwhile.
Rick Martinez is the CEO and founder of Project BINK, a community and platform that guides people to purpose-driven happiness. Find out more about how to eliminate distraction and become more mindful in your career, workouts, and life on the Project BINK blog.