How to Overcome Resistance to Running
Every time I climbed more than two flights of stairs, I felt like I’d run a marathon. It was ridiculous just how unfit I was. It wasn’t surprising, since I spent all day, every day, sitting in front of a computer — which I loved. But, I really, really wanted to get healthier, fitter, and stronger.
I started a running program recommended by a friend who had experienced immense success with it, and who was now running every day. I was excited. I started the program… four times, over the course of six years in all, and never got further than week five.
Now, I run for 30 minutes, three times a week (and have been doing so for three months) — and I’m loving it!
No more procrastination, no more excuses, and no more forcing myself to run when I’m dreading it.
How did I do it? By using a set of tactics I developed in the course of all those times I failed to get further than week 5. Here’s what I learned, and the specific steps you can take to succeed even more quickly than I eventually did!
I went through a journey of insights into how I was “self-sabotaging” and came up with a few observations that led to the transformation that I’m enjoying, now. In general, they were:
Translating those observations into specific tactics and habits made all the difference.
Putting my running clothes out the night before and putting them on as soon as I got out of bed was definitely a start. But, making myself go out to run immediately, I discovered, was part of an old pattern of being tough on myself — and it turns out, it wasn’t necessary.
So, I do put my running clothes on as soon as I get out of bed, but I then proceed with my morning gently. First, I have a cup of hot water with fresh lemon, while watching something funny on YouTube — that gets the “feel-good” chemicals in the brain going — getting the day off to a positive start.
I put the coffee on, but I only have my first cup of coffee when I get back from the run. I have a deal with myself: I can take as long as I like before I go running… but I will only have coffee afterwards. This means that the smell of the coffee is now a positive connection to running, and it’s motivation for getting it done.
Wherever you put your focus is where you’ll be heading in the moment.
Thoughts are connections in the neocortex of the brain, and those connections between neurons trigger the production of matching chemicals. In other words, thinking a sad thought (a particular neural connection) triggers the release of stress chemicals in the limbic system that create the feelings of sadness. Thinking a happy thought (a different neural connection) triggers the release of endorphins, creating the feelings of happiness.
I discovered that when I thought about going for a run, if I allowed myself to consider the option of skipping the run, I would think about how tired I was: how cold it was outside, how nice it would be to just have a cup of coffee and get on the computer. It didn’t take long for me to come up with a really strong argument for skipping the run!
If, on the other hand, I did not even entertain the idea of skipping it, I could stay in the happy mindset of completing my habit. If I kept my focus on the wonderful feeling of getting back, after the run, taking a shower, and then sitting down with a coffee, having achieved completing the run — I would be more willing to go out and do the run.
So I learned to focus on this imagery, rather than anything having to do with skipping the run.
For me, one of the challenges of running was the boredom. It wasn’t terrible, but the idea of running for 30 minutes seemed tedious. Using the Couch-to-5K app helped — a lot — but music only worked for me for short periods of time.
Then I came up with one of the main reasons I am now loving running for 30 minutes at a time: an audiobook. But not just any audiobook. For me, it needs to be a captivating story, and — most importantly — I only ever listen to it when I’m running.
This means that when I think about going for a run, I choose to focus on the fact that I’m looking forward to hearing what happens next in the audiobook.
It also makes the time go faster, of course.
I have to admit that I wouldn’t have got to this point without my running app. When I first started this running program, I was living in the UK and used the one recommended by my friend: Couch to 5K. Since moving to America, I’ve discovered there’s a wide selection of similar apps here.
The apps work in conjunction with the music or audiobook you choose to listen to, and the programs start off with just 60-second runs, interspersed with two minutes of walking.
60 seconds doesn’t sound like much, but if you’re anything like I was, it’s challenging enough to start with. However, it doesn’t take long to start building stamina when it’s organized gradually and in manageable chunks.
The program lasts for nine weeks (three runs per week, with recovery days in-between) — each week building fitness, stamina, and endurance.
So, you start out on Day 1 of Week One, with a five-minute warm-up walk, and the guide explaining to you what to expect for the rest of the week. By the time you get to Week Nine, you’re running for 30 minutes straight.
When the guide isn’t actively giving you instructions, the app automatically plays the music or audiobook you’ve chosen.
After that first day, even though you’ve done mostly walking, the feeling of achievement (and the reward of what you’ve chosen to listen to) is enough to bring you back two days later.
I used to only see two options to hurdles: (1) forcing myself through resistance, injury, and illness or (2) giving up. If I didn’t force myself to run when I really didn’t feel up to it, I saw it as a failure, and I would then give up. Naturally, this always happens, so I always gave up.
But I changed that perspective when I realized I need to be more gentle with myself. That meant admitting that sometimes the body just needs more rest and recovery. This completely changed my results.
Instead of pushing myself to the point where I gave up, when my ankle hurt a bit at the beginning of Week Six, I took a couple of extra days of recovery, with the intention of starting back at the beginning of Week Five— and continuing to keep my focus on the end result during those recovery days.
It made all the difference, and I was actually looking forward to repeating Week Five because I felt it would be easy since I’d already done it!
As it happened, it wasn’t easier. Weirdly enough, it seemed harder. So, instead of forcing myself harder the following week, I repeated Week Five again. And the great thing was, I was happy to do so! And, it was definitely easier that time. It also made Week Six much easier than it would have been.
There’s no shame in repeating earlier levels until you’re really ready for the next one, with no need to struggle and force yourself.
Now that you’ve read up on the tactics I used, how do you put them into actual practice?
While you’re actually running, there will be times you’re tempted to stop. I found two things helped me get through this:
Knowing that I was probably going to be tempted to stop helped me to keep going. If you’re not expecting to want to stop, and then you want to stop, you’re more likely to “buy into” the apparently perfectly logical reasoning (in the moment, anyway) your mind will come up with, like: “I think that’s enough for today” or “Well, I really need to get back and water the plants or there won’t be time” or “I could start this properly tomorrow”. But, if you’re expecting it, and you know it’s perfectly normal, you will be more likely to recognize it, acknowledge it as a little resistance, and then continue running anyway.
I told myself I could stop if I really wanted to, but I’ll just go for a bit longer. Just another minute, just another two minutes, or just another five minutes — depending on where I was in the program. Just another few minutes, and then if I still really want to stop, I will. And then, back to focusing on listening to the audiobook.
Any significant change comes with some resistance. We need resistance to move forward. If you have nothing to push against, you can’t move forward. You need heavier weights than you’re comfortable with in order to build stronger muscles. You need to run for longer than you’re comfortable with in order to build stamina and strengthen your lungs.
The discomfort of resistance causes a natural and automatic resistance to doing the activity. It’s part of being human to want to avoid discomfort. But the more you resist that resistance, the harder you’ll find it to… resist.
Instead of the harsh attitude of refusing and denying, use a compassionate attitude of accepting and allowing. This is to your advantage in two specific ways:
The combination of expecting the resistance (and therefore being prepared for it) and keeping your focus on how wonderful it feels after you’ve completed the full run makes it easier for the strategy of deferred quitting to work.
Deferring your “quit” will usually mean you’ll be able to keep going until the very end.
No matter how much you may think you dislike running and aren’t looking forward to it now, if you know you want to benefit from a running routine, and you want to be able to enjoy it, following these steps will automatically result in a complete transformation in how you experience running.
I’m still getting a kick out of the genuine enjoyment and automatic enthusiasm I experience from running now, in addition to the health benefit. It’s a far cry from the struggle I had with the “boot-camp” attitude I used to embody without success.
I’ve found effective ways to keep growing as a runner, too. Since I don’t want to spend more than 40 minutes in total on my time for exercising, instead of increasing the running time, I’ve added hills into my routine — which is strengthening my muscles as well as my stamina.
If someone had told me, three months ago, that I would actually enjoy doing this, I would never have believed them!
1. Wherever you put your focus in the moment determines where you’re going — so, keep your focus on the end result and on what you enjoy about the activity, not on the parts you don’t like or the reasons for not doing it.
2. Looking forward to what you enjoy is far more effective than forcing yourself to do something you’re dreading. Build in specific rewards (your audiobook “treat”) and visualize the enjoyment you get from your runs (the enjoyment of a post-run coffee).
3. Give yourself permission to be kind and compassionate to yourself by allowing yourself to repeat steps, or to take a recovery day without seeing it as a failure. This will make all the difference to your results and your enjoyment of your fitness habit.
How to Overcome Resistance to Running
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