What Do Marathon Running And Stress Have In Common? (Beyond Presuppositions)

by Doc Orman, M.D.

RunningThis week, I’ve been discussing how marathon running and stress are connected at a deep and not very obvious level. In my first post on this topic about the 2014 Boston Marathon, I shared that I was able to dramatically transform my relationship to both running and stress in the early 1980s. 

Then, in my second post, I pointed out how both of these personal transformations started out with the same first step—changing a fundamental presupposition about that specific aspect of life:

“The first thing I did to ‘transform’ these two areas of my life was to recognize I had these very deep beliefs and that they may not be absolutely true.  In fact, I did something even more outrageous!  I took the exact opposite of these two presuppositions and asked myself what if these opposite presuppositions were actually true?

Here are the two new presuppositions I ended up with:

1)    Running is by nature an enjoyable activity for human beings, and it is humanly possible to train for and run a full marathon while enjoying yourself, without struggle or pain, all throughout the process.

2)    Stress is not an inevitable part of modern life. I have total personal control over any stress that I might experience.

Then, I set out to explore the implications of these two new presuppositions, assuming that these new ideas were both true and my older ideas were false.”

I then pointed out some of the amazing accomplishments I was able to achieve in both of these areas after radically altering my main presuppositions—the classic “started at lowly point A and ended up way over here at sky high point B story.”

How Does A Person Do That?

Well, how exactly did I get from point A to point B?  How did I go from just one cognitive act of changing an existing belief (in two different areas where I was struggling) to producing massive tangible results in terms of miles than I ran enjoyably and dramatically less stress that I lowered and maintained for more than 30 years?

Well, it wasn’t all that mysterious…but it wasn’t easy either.  It took courage, dedication, trial and error experimentation, practice, more practice and a whole lot of being will to admit that multiple things I had previously believed strongly in were not really true.

Once A New Door Opens—You Have To Walk Through It

You see, once you dramatically change a deep presupposition (assuming you replace it with a much more accurate and empowering one) that you’ve collected lots of “evidence” to “confirm” over many years—the cognitive act of changing that presupposition does little more than open a new set of doors for you to explore.  It does nothing by itself, until you actually walk through those newly opened doors and discover what lies behind them.

For example, once I “flipped” my presupposition from the belief that running is inherently awful, painful and an unenjoyable activity to the opposite perspective—that it is inherently enjoyable, painless and totally fulfilling, it became incumbent upon me to test out this new proposition. (Actually, when I first started down this path, I had no reason to believe it was true and I had no personal experience or evidence to confirm it—but as I was open to discovering “what I didn’t know,”  I eventually collected enough evidence to finally confirm that it was indeed true and that my old beliefs were actually false.)

So the real “work” in my transformative process came during the weeks and months after I first made the “leap of faith” to consider an “alternate reality.”  For if my new “reality” was to be taken as true, and if running really was inherently enjoyable and pleasurable to do, and that wasn’t the way it felt in my world—I must therefore be doing things to make running painful and unenjoyable!!!

If that’s the case, then my “job” in this consciously-directed transformative process was to enter a process of deep self-examination and deep self-discovery to find out all the many ways I must be doing this so I can pinpoint them one-by-one and figure out ways to stop doing them!  And that is exactly what I did…and it worked like a charm.  Here are just a few of the 30-40 key discoveries I made about how I was making running a painful and unenjoyable activity:

  • I recognized that I believed in the old adage “no pain…no gain” and that all my prior attempts at running for exercise were directed by this philosophy (so I dropped it and designed my own strategy to start out by alternating between jogging and walking in an enjoyable, relaxed and relatively effortless manner);
  • I noticed that when I was jogging and I was thinking about finishing my run or when my mind was focused on some distance landmark ahead of me, my body tended to lean just a slight bit forward and this put more strain on my leg muscles than was actually necessary (so I gradually retrained myself to “pull back” my conscious awareness and focus it more on my body when I was jogging rather than projecting my attention way ahead of me).
  • I also noticed that when I was jogging and I approached a steep uphill climb, I automatically believed I would have to effort harder, which caused all my muscles to tense up just a bit, and also my body would once again automatically lean forward, which made running uphill less mechanically efficient (so I eventually figured out how to run up hills while becoming progressively more relaxed as I ascended).

So you see, it wasn’t really “magic” at all.  It was exploration and creative work, which turned out to be very rewarding in its positive and lasting benefits.  The magic came from having the courage to challenge my long-standing presupposition that running was inherently unenjoyable, which merely opened the door for me to make a whole bunch of new discoveries that I never dreamed were possible.

Works For Stress Too

By the way, I used this exact same process to completely transform my relationship to stress.  In the exact same manner, once I changed my starting presupposition (that I had little personal control over the stress in my life), it then became incumbent upon me to do the same type of self-examination and self-discovery process to uncover all the many ways I was cognitively and behaviorally creating stress in my life when life itself is inherently not all that distressing.

Go figure.

NOTE: For more information about my unique approach to eliminating stress, please visit http://stressmasteryacademy.com


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