I recently attended a seminar on Mindfulness And The Endurance Athlete.
One of my biggest takeaways from the talk is that fear is usually of something that isn’t happening at that moment.
Being mindful is all about paying attention to what is currently happening, not on worries of future events that may or may not actually occur.
I love this idea and ‘focus on right now’ is something I’ve already repeated to myself often. I know I’ll be doing it even more during race weeks when my mind begins spinning out of control with race day ‘what ifs.’
But there is one part of this that nags at me.
By training and profession, I’m an attorney and a risk manager. I’ve been trained, both formally and by experience, to look at a scenario and identify and mitigate (the professional lingo) present and future risks.
Interesting chicken/egg aside: Which came first: my tendency to over-observe and identify potential problems, or my getting a job identifying potential problems?
Professionally, I need to consider the laundry list of potential future problems in order to prevent the bad outcomes that can be prevented and to minimize the impact of things we can’t prevent. Many problems are much easier to prevent than they are to deal with after the fact.
If I was 100% mindful and in the moment, I’d be out of a job.
For example, for years I worked at a bank based in Northern California (a/k/a earthquake country). It wasn’t enough for us to say an earthquake isn’t happening right now, so we don’t have to worry about one damaging client’s homes. We had to prepare for the risks we knew were coming and buy insurance and take other risk-mitigating steps.
Finding The Intersection Between Mindfulness and Risk Management
But luckily it doesn’t have to be one or the other. I think I’ve found a way I can be mindful and still use the beneficial skills I’ve learned in risk management.
First Things First
Rule 1 is never ‘worry.’
Take action if you can.
Be in the moment if you have to.
But worrying – considering or ruminating on something that could go wrong without doing anything about it- isn’t good or useful for anyone.
After thinking about it (side note: you know you are a distance runner when you think about thinking about running on the run), this is ultimately where I came out: When in doubt – create a workflow!
Step 1: Notice the Thing
The first step is noticing and acknowledging the fear, worry, doubt, or stress (I will collectively call them ‘the bad thing’).
This is often obvious: there is a pain in your knee, or a looming dark storm cloud on the horizon while in the middle of nowhere on a trail run.
But other times, it can take a bit of work to identify a bad thing for what it is. Many of my ‘I suck’ moments or tasks that I’m procrastinating on are actually fears in disguise.
This is a big element of mindfulness (‘recognize the fear for what it is’ to use the phrase used at the lecture I attended).
Step 2: Is This Thing Happening Right Now?
Yes? Take action and deal with it.
No? Move on to step 3.
Step 3: Can I Prevent It?
Is there something you can (or will be able to) do to prevent the bad thing from happening?
This is straight-up risk management.
Take whatever actions you can now to prevent the bad thing from happening entirely. Chances are you can do more than you think.
If your fear is the possibility of forgetting a piece of necessary gear, make a packing list or put the item somewhere where you know it won’t get forgotten.
Step 4: Can I Minimize the Impact?
If you can’t prevent it entirely, is there something you can (or will be able to) do to minimize the impact of the bad thing?
This is the same idea as step 3, but there will be a remainder of potentially negative impact. The bad thing may still happen, but it won’t be as bad.
You can’t prevent a major rainstorm on race day, but you can minimize the impact of the rain by making sure you bring your rain gear and hat. You can’t prevent a major heat wave on race day, but you can:
- Review the race policies and website regarding how the race will communicate cancellations or delays.
- Do they have a flag system that will dictate when and under what circumstance the race will be canceled?
- How will that be communicated to you?
- Get your sunscreen and hydration pack out and ready to go (if they weren’t already)
- Review your race plan and race goals. Adjust them accordingly to account for the (potential) conditions. If you were planning on a PR, begin getting used to the idea that it isn’t meant to be if the bad conditions come to pass.
Step 5: What To Do With Whatever Is Left
If the bad thing is not happening now, and there is nothing you can do to prevent the bad thing or minimize the impact of the bad thing, this is the time to come back to mindfulness.
Let it go and move on. There is nothing you can do about it.
In the wise words of Hagrid from Harry Potter:
“No good sittin’ worryin’ abou’ it… what’s comin’
will come, an’ we’ll meet it when it does.”