A few days ago Erin A asked this question: Please share more of your wisdom on how you have trained your mind to deal with boredom, fear and loneliness. We all know it is all in the mind but then that is no easy task for everyone.
I don’t specifically train my mind in advance of my rows, but I do have a few tricks I’ve figured out during my time on the ocean. I’ve used them on dry land as well, and they work for me. I hope they work for you too!
I’ll take it in two sections. First I’ll talk about a few possible ways to deal with fear, loneliness, and negative emotions generally. Then I’ll talk about boredom – particularly in relation to physical exercise.
Fear, Loneliness, and Other Negative Emotions
– I remind myself “I am not my thoughts”. We all have those little negative voices that pop up in our heads – but they are not who we are. They are just voices – maybe echoes of people from our past, or our own self-doubts. They will always be there, but we can choose whether or not to listen to them. I try to discipline myself to acknowledge them, say to them, “Thanks for sharing”, and then ignore them if they do not serve me well.
– Lighten your eyes. When we get stressed or emotional, we tend to tense the muscles in our faces. If you make a deliberate effort to unwrinkle your forehead and relax your eyes, you’ll find that you feel a lot less anxious. Combine this with some deep breaths, and you’ll be well on your way to recovering from your moment of stress. There is a strong connection between body and mind, and you can calm your mind by first calming your body.
– Repeat a mantra. Think of something positive, and focus on it – maybe you’ve been in a worse situation before, and survived it. So tell yourself “I can do this, I can do this, I KNOW I can do this.” If you can say it out loud, even better – it helps get the worry out of your head and into the open. Easy for me to talk to myself in mid-Pacific, not so easy in a job interview!
– Step outside yourself. You may be feeling anxious on the inside, but try to see yourself from the outside for a moment, like a character in a book or a movie. Imagine how that character would cope with this situation – especially if they are the hero of the tale. Describe to yourself how you are handling it – calmly, with panache, courageously, whatever. This really helps you to disengage from those negative emotions and see your situation clearly.
– Know that it will pass. Everything does!
We’ve all had those moments (haven’t we?!) in the gym or out on a run, when we feel an overwhelming urge to stop. It’s not the physical exhaustion that gets to us. It’s the boredom. Here are some tricks I’ve found helpful:
– Remind yourself why you’re doing it. Ask yourself why, and KEEP asking yourself why until you get to a really, really big reason why it matters that you do this. For example, I am doing this because I have to do this rowing shift. Why? So I can reach my target for the day. Why? So I can get to Hawaii. Why? So I can talk to the newspapers. Why? So I can talk about my environmental message. Why? So I can save the world! I’m exaggerating here, but you get the idea.
– Break it down into smaller sections. If I’m in the gym and bored with cardio, instead of doing 60 mins of nonstop cardio, I’ll do 15 mins and then some quick weights, and repeat 4 times. It breaks it up and if you do light weights, fast reps, you’ll keep your heart rate up. If you’re out for a run then concentrate on getting to a particular landmark. On my boat, I might take a 5-minute break in the middle of a 2-hour shift, usually to do a little chore that needs doing anyway, to give myself a mental break.
– Pretend that you’re closer to the end than you actually are. Say for example I’ve got 45 mins of a rowing shift to go. I’ll tell myself just to do another half hour. Then when I get to the end of the half hour I think, “Well, only 15 mins and I’ll have done the full shift. So I may as well carry on – I’m so close.” So you kid yourself into doing just a bit more, just a bit more – until eventually you find you’ve done the whole thing.
– Focus on something else. I’ll tell myself to focus on the audiobook I’m listening to, and promise not to look at my watch again until it gets to Chapter Ten, or until a particular character is mentioned again. In the gym you could focus on the music, or a TV programme. If you’re out for a run concentrate on the scenery around you.
– Think about how you’ll feel if you quit – shame, guilt, disappointment – compared with how you’ll feel if you do what you set out to do – pride, self-respect, accomplishment. Which feelings would you rather carry around with you for the rest of the day?
And if all else fails, and you fall short, go easy on yourself. You can’t do better than your best – and some days that best is going to be better than others. You’re only human. Regret, shame and guilt are all destructive feelings – to your body as well as your mind. So don’t give them headspace.
Ancient Chinese proverb say: Fall down 9 times, get up 10. Forgive yourself, let it go, and try again tomorrow.
Position at 2030 on 20th August HST, 0430 21st August UTC: 22 25.020’N, 151 30.273’W.
Thanks for all the great messages. Mum passes on your comments and emails submitted via the site. I’m not going to say all my usual hellos – it’s a very hostile, squally night tonight and I’m bouncing around like crazy in my cramped little cabin. Time to get into my bunk before either the laptop or I come to harm!
Do remember to follow the voyage of JUNK as they head towards Hawaii.
Click here to view another of Rita’s blogs from the time after Roz was no longer able to send messages. The Purple Dot Following Roz’s movements on the Atlantic Rowing Race website.