This morning, I had a conversation with the hosts of SBS Radio Italia about the mental toughness required for running long distances.
We drew a parallel to SBS's "Alone Australia" TV show, where ten Australians are dropped off in separate areas of the Tasmanian wilderness and must survive against the forces of nature, hunger, and loneliness. Although I have no experience with such a challenge (nor any interest), I firmly believe that success will come down to the strongest mindset over skills (assuming skills like building a shelter, finding food, etc are at a sufficient level). In my view, the contestants will have to overcome not only physical challenges but also the internal voice of self-doubt and resistance to discomfort, exhaustion, and fear.
Likewise, running long distances can also be overwhelming and mentally challenging. During these moments, it's essential to have the mental strength to detach from negative thoughts and bring your focus back to the present moment. The key question to ask in these moments is, "What can I do right now?"
Over the years, I've responded to this question in two ways: as a "fighter" and as a "conscious being."
The "fighter" response is to acknowledge the weakness and doubt and then rise above it. In other words, do it anyway. This is akin to the famous phrase "Shut up legs!" - I'm going to do it anyway, regardless of what you say.
On the other hand, the "conscious being" response involves observing the weakness and doubt and acknowledging it as a temporary thought or emotion, based on past or future projections that are not relevant to the present moment.
I believe that both approaches complement each other and have an appropriate time and place, but I have yet to determine which one suits me best.
The hosts of the program also asked me whether these challenging experiences are ultimately positive for mental strength.
I believe it depends on the motivation behind one's challenge.
If the motivation is external, such as prize money, status, position on a leaderboard, or others' opinions, I don't think it's positive. If you don't achieve your goal, it can be a grandiose failure that undermines your self-worth. And even if you achieve your goal, there's always the hunger to hold onto that success and seek the next thing.
However, if the motivation is internal, such as personal growth, physical health, community, or even a personal cause, I think it's absolutely positive because you learn a little more about yourself. The experience does not define you.
When I was asked to join the discussion my challenge was to convey these thoughts in Italian, which made me feel self-conscious as I'm not used to discussing such topics in Italian.
Yesterday, my fighter told me to "Shut up brain. Just do it!". Today, when I couldn't find the right words, I took a deep breath, admitted that I had lost a word, and hung in there until the next best word came to mind.
It wasn't all that bad, after all—it was just another fleeting moment.