Accept where you are now to get to where you want to be. Long-term fulfillment is more valuable than short-term gain. Progress is nonlinear. Those are valuable principles for runners to follow, but they’re relevant to every aspect of your life, as Brad Stulberg explains in his new book, The Practice of Groundedness.
Everyone could benefit from practicing groundedness, but Brad’s model for success is especially pertinent for driven, type-A people, which describes many runners. Following his advice will help you become a better runner and person.
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“Many people these days… are feeling a constant coming up short in a sense of never enoughness. I call this heroic individualism and I define it as a game of one-upmanship against self and others.”
So many people feel as though they always need to do more, achieve more. That could mean breaking a goal time in a race or getting a promotion, but whatever it is, it’s accompanied by the belief that once you achieve it, you’ll feel fulfilled. The solution to that arrival fallacy, Brad says, is what he calls “groundedness, which is a sense of strength and stability from where you are.”
“Groundedness does not eliminate goal setting or striving or even ambition, but what it does is, it situates it so that it’s more durable and sturdy because it comes from a place of enoughness.”
Brad points to research that says that “if you play not to lose, you tend not to perform as well as playing to win… When we are feeling unmoored or frantic or like we need to do something and then we’ll finally be content, generally you do that from a place of playing not to lose.” If instead you feel as though where you are right now is enough but you want to get better, then you start playing to win. That’s more likely to lead to a flow state or being in the zone, and is associated with more sustainable peak performance.
“We often confuse excitement and ease, even though they’re very different things.”
Excitement, Brad explains, is “feeling that rush in your body of how great it’s going to feel if you nail that workout in two weeks, or you PR that race… Ease, on the other hand, is what you get when you’re present in the middle of a workout and your sense of self just kind of melts away because you’re just flowing into the run.”
“Excitement, if you actually feel physiologically what that’s like, is a lot closer to anxiety than to happiness, whereas ease is a lot closer to happiness than anxiety.”
Excitable runners believe that if they nail a workout, they’ll be happy all day, and they’re filled with self-doubt if they miss a workout or don’t hit their paces. A more easeful runner, Brad says, “is someone who can look at the entire process of improvement, of self discovery, of learning about themselves as a person, as an athlete, and kind of settle into the training.” He offers Eliud Kipchoge as “the ultimate embodiment of ease.”
“Yeah, you’re faster when you’re lighter, but you’re slower when you’re on the couch with a stress fracture.”
Being an easeful, rather than an excitable, runner can mean the difference between long-term success and burnout. The excitable approach may work for a few training cycles, but it will be unsustainable in the long term.
“Those hits of excitement are really powerful. But if you do those things over and over and over again, you start to feel like crap.”
Whether it’s in running or other aspects of your life, you need to learn how to not give in to the craving for excitement. Outside of running, that might mean ignoring the urge to check your phone to see if you’ve gotten an email or a “like” on your social media. Instead, work on staying grounded and present in the moment, and not allowing yourself to be distracted by the momentary high of an affirmation online.
That doesn’t mean that you have to disconnect entirely. Brad believes that “trying to have a goal of just being present always… is really hard in the 21st century and I think you set yourself up for a lot of failure and then a lot of self judgment if you have such a goal.” Instead, set aside blocks of time when you want to be fully present, and eventually you’ll find that those blocks can get longer and longer. It may not be easy at first, but it will be worth it. As Brad says,
“No one ever looks back and says a really happy moment was having a viral post. So I think it’s really important to remember this.”
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“Thank you” to Brad. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on the show.