Mental Maps: Finding Direction in Your Life

Ever been lost on an unfamiliar highway with no road signs in sight? No one direction seems any more right than the others. All you have to go on are your instincts and a 10 year old road map.

Regardless of how determined you are to find your way or how honed your instincts may be, 10 years is a long time. Some of the roads shown on an old map may have washed out years ago. Others may have evolved from two lane highways into eight lane freeways. An outdated map wouldn’t be of much help..

Without knowing the current lay of the land, the likelihood of taking a wrong turn increases exponentially. In turn, the likelihood of actually getting where you want to go plummets.

The same is true of the inner mental maps we carry with us. Our inner maps plot out our well-worn habitual paths of thinking and feeling. We have traveled down these paths many times and think we know, for good or ill, what to expect of them. These are the secure paths to which we automatically turn for answers when faced with a new situation or potential change.

In attempting to navigate new situations, however, we need a mental map that will take into account both our past experiences and our most recent growth. The tried and true must be mixed with the novel and original to give us the widest range of future options. Yet, it’s easy to become complacent in or just comfortable with what we know, whether it gets us where we want to go or not.

Before you embark on any new personal journey, be sure your inner maps can get you there. Here are some suggestions for keeping your mental maps up to date.

First, trust the parts of your inner map that you know are still reliable. Just because you have not found the answers you seek yet, do not assume you’ve learned nothing in the process of trying. Look for landmarks along the way like greater happiness… like a relaxed attitude or greater energy … that show you when you were moving in the right direction.

Second, know and avoid your dead end roads. We all have those diets, resolutions and goals that we go back to time and time again. We don’t keep going back to them because they are worthwhile. We keep going back because we have failed at them repeatedly. The more we fail, the more we convince ourselves that finally accomplishing this thing we have dreaded and hated for years is the only way to be successful.

If you drove down a road and saw a dead end with no signs of houses or human life, you would not stay on the road hoping to find a town. Do in your mental life what you’d no doubt do in the car. Get off the dead end, turn around and go in a different, more helpful direction!

Third, if the path really starts to resemble a maze, just keep making left turns and you’ll get out eventually. We’ve all heard this little bit of folk wisdom applied to physical mazes. But it works for mental mazes as well.

In this case, the left turn indicates a move that is counter to your reflex, knee-jerk responses. Every successful change entails at least a small amount of risk. You may need to begin your journey with a “dip your toe in the pool” level of risk rather than a “naked skydiving” level of risk. But that’s OK.

Start from where you are with small steps. Any time you feel stuck and unable to make further progress, get unstuck making a move you would ordinarily hesitate to make … or even one you are convinced you can’t make. Such little risks will probably not get you 100% of the way to your goal. But they will get you in the habit of acting outside your comfort zone. And that will open up a host of new options for you.

Finally, know where you want to go. Most people would never think of getting in the car and just driving until good fortune lands them in a place they want to be. But this is precisely what many of us do when attempting to change our lives.

We go to the bookstore’s self help section, close our eyes and point. The first random book our fingers touch … or the one with the most intriguing cover art … becomes our written guru for the next few months.

Some of us do a little bit better by getting recommendations from our friends and family. But no matter how well a program, a method or an adviser works for someone else, every person is unique. Choosing your path by chance instead of by choice will can produce only accidental success.

Your change process requires a solution suited to you. Do not just set the goal that you’re “supposed” to set. Take time to decide what you really want from your life. Maybe you don’t really care if you lose 25 pounds, but you do want to feel better when you wake up each morning. Maybe you don’t care if you ever go back to school, but you would like to make more money.

Set goals that are driven by your own personal and specific needs and desires. Even if you end up in a confusing maze of choices along the way to attaining them, you’ll end up in a better place.

Dr. Janice Staab is a philosophical counselor and life coach. For more information on her services or to schedule your free consultation, e-mail You can also check out her Web site at



Change Your Habits and Change Your Life! Part II

           In Part II of our discussion of habits, we’ll look at four more aspects of human habit:  Body, I, Time and Social Support.

Body:  Have you ever forgotten your watch at home only to spend the day looking down at your wrist because it still feels like you are wearing the watch?  To your body, it feels as if a watch is really there!  Even with no physical watch present, your body’s expectation, or habit, of feeling a watch is fulfilled. In a similar way, all habits are stored in your body in some way. Depression has a posture. Anger has a tone of voice.  Confidence has a breathing pattern. In each case, the body actively participates in the habit even if the habit itself is not overtly physical. To learn where how your body stores your negative habits, answer the following questions.

When I engage in my limiting habit patterns,

1.  How do I breathe?    How does the tone of my voice change?

2.  What is my posture like?    What gestures do I typically use?

3.  Where do I feel tension in my muscles?  What allows me to release this tension?

4. How does my body react when I am the most powerful?  Successful?  Capable?

5. How does my body react when I feel the most vulnerable? Weak? Confused?

I:  I simply stands for the Self, the core of a person’s identity, the utterly essential aspects of the individual. Do not confuse this with being selfish or egocentric. In fact, the most defining traits of some people may be their abilities to connect with others, to cooperate and to be social. Still, whatever characteristics set an individual apart from the pack, their uniqueness deserves respect. If you pay lip service to ideals you have trouble acting on, then you aren’t being yourself…at least not your habitual self…when you do act according to your ideals. To decide whether or not your habits allow you to be yourself, ask these questions.

1.  How much of my day do I spend doing and saying things that honor my highest Self?

2.  Do my current habits reflect my core beliefs and core values?

3.  Do I feel powerful and capable when I am engaging in my current habits?

4.  Who is the person I really want to be?  How can I become that person? Do I often stand in her way?

Time: Habits are affected by time in at least three distinct ways. First, we spend time actually engaging in our habits. Whether our primary habits are distance running and healthy eating, or Internet surfing and potato chip scarfing, our habits literally consume our time.

Second, certain times of the day, week, month and year can make us more apt to succumb to negative habits. For example, someone who is not a morning person might have a shorter fuse if angered before 9am. Third, and perhaps most importantly, it is often difficult to just live in the present. Dreams of the future or nostalgia for the past can themselves be habits of escape from the demands of the moment. To analyze the role time plays in your current habits, answer the following questions.

1.  How much time do my negative habits take up in a given day? Week? Month?  Year?

2.  Are there certain times of the day or seasons of the year when I am more likely to act on my negative habits?

3.  Do I spend a lot of my time dwelling on the past?  Do I spend a lot of my time dreaming about the future?

4.  How can I begin to live my life as it is right now instead of escaping into my dreams or memories?

Social Support: Socialization refers to the influence exerted on our habit development by those with whom we share our lives. This group is not only made up of family and friends, colleagues and acquaintances.  It is also includes our beloved pets, the gods we worship and celebrities we admire from afar. In a world of computers, cars, plasma TV’s and cell phones, many people actually interact more frequently with things than with humans. In any case, the central issue here is whether we socialize in ways that will improve us or hinder (perhaps even harm) us.  To determine how your social life affects your habit life, answer the following questions.

1.  With whom or what do I socialize when I am most vulnerable to my negative habits?

2.  Who or what prompts me to act on my negative habits even when I do not feel any inner desire to do so?

3.  Do I have social relationships that discourage me from making the changes I want to make?

4.  What social relationships could support me as I attempt to change my habits?

With a better sense of how your limiting habits operate in these six powerful areas, the next step is to determine why you are still hanging onto these habits.  If you have sustained a habit for a long time, it is almost certainly giving you a positive payoff in at least one of these six areas. Something keeps you coming back for more.  The next step, then, is to a) find the payoffs that attach you to your current habits, and b) devise practical, simple strategies to break free of these habits once and for all!  Upcoming posts in will show you how to do just that!

Dr. Janice Staab is a philosophical counselor and life coach. For more information on her services or to schedule your free consultation, e-mail You can also check out her Web site at

Change Your Habits and Change Your Life! Part I

All of us have tried to change some personal habit.  And at some point or another, we’ve all failed at the attempt!  Let’s take a quick tally. How many of you made a New Year’s resolution that didn’t make it to February? Perhaps the motivation to change was just not there. With all the energy spent on family, friends, work and home, there was nothing left for you by the end of the day. Maybe, in spite of being diligent, committed and motivated, you still haven’t seen any tangible results.  You vowed to put your heart and soul into changing, but still live exactly the same way you did before. The changes you want seem further out of reach; but that nagging sense of failure is closer and more real.

Wouldn’t it just be easier to eat the cupcake, to grab the cigarette or the TV remote and to lie comfortably in the embrace of these “old friends”?  Of course it would be easier! But don’t throw in the towel and take up the cookies just yet!  Instead, consider another reason why your new habit may not have taken hold.  It’s outnumbered!  Your new habit is only a tiny fraction of your total Self.  The rest of You is made up of memories, experiences, emotions, ideas and other deep-seated habit patterns.  In the face of all this, a new habit is weak and vulnerable.  Like a little child trying desperately to navigate the first day at a new school, it does not know where, how or if it fits into your life. Your new habit has not existed long enough to form alliances with other parts of You. Thus, it does not yet have the immediate support it needs to be successful.

Your old habits, on the other hand, have formidable allies.  They are entrenched in the vital activities of your body, mind and spirit. You have repeatedly allowed them to influence and be influenced by many other aspects of your life.  Emotional stress, for example, may cause you to indulge in chocolate a little too freely.  The craving for chocolate arises with each stressful day and throws a road block in your path.  In doing so, that craving is allied with every Oreo you’ve ever eaten just to feel better, every time you’ve told yourself “It’s hopeless.  I am a chocoholic” and every self-defeating emotion you’ve felt after surrendering to the sugar urge. As much as you may want to change, you have devoted a lot of time, energy and attention to growing your current set of habits. They are strong and stable and will not go down without a fight.  That is the bad news.

What’s the good news?    Whether intentionally or not, you are the one who mobilized your resources to create the set of habits you now have. Your old habits are strong and stable because you made them that way!  Even better, the same resources you used to solidify your old habits can be mobilized to create any new habit you wish. These resources fall into six primary categories that can be represented by the acronym H*A*B*I*T*S:  Habitat, Affect, Body, I, Time and Socialization. We’ll talk about the first 2 of these categories here.

Habitat:   All habits have habitats. They live and grow in certain specific places and environments with little, if any, resistance. In their native habitats, established habits exert the most automatic control over a person’s behavior. Often this control manifests in the form of “triggers,” or prompts that cause habits to spring into action. In the words of Psychologist William James, “habit diminishes the conscious attention with which our acts are performed.”

A warm bed on a Saturday morning, for example, triggers laziness much more effectively than a roller coaster. The couch in front of the TV is a great cue for the munchies. Some triggers are not as obvious since their power depends upon the specific experiences of the individual concerned.  For instance, the same college classroom may be frustrating for one who barely passed high school, but exciting for one who excelled in her studies. Understanding which habitats perpetuate your limiting habits is a crucial first step in the change process. Start by asking yourself these questions.

1.  Where do my negative habits thrive?  In what locations do I almost always give in to them?  Where do my helpful habits thrive?

2.  What negative habit triggers do I experience in these places? What places trigger my positive habits?

3.  Where do I feel powerless to change my negative habits?

4.  How could I begin to change these places to make them less supportive of my negative habits and more supportive of the habits I want to create?

Affect:   Affect is just a fancy word for emotion. All habits produce emotional consequences somewhere in your life. This may mean that a habit actually generates a positive emotion within you. However, it can just as easily mean that the habit helps you to avoid or lessen the impact of a negative emotion. The longer and more intensely a habit is practiced, the greater its emotional payoff (for good or ill) will become. Begin to assess the emotional pull of your current habits by asking yourself these questions:

1.  What emotions do I experience before, during and after I act on my negative habits?  Do my habits give me comfort?   Do they challenge me?  Do they offer affirmation? Convenience? Consistency? Do they help me to make sense of my life?

2.  Do I really want or need to cultivate these emotions in my life?  If so, is there way for me to do so without acting on my negative habits?

3.  If not, what emotions would I choose to cultivate instead?

4.  What positive emotions would best support the habits I want to develop?

We’ll discuss the other 4 aspects of habit in upcoming posts. Until then, begin to examine your own habits (the ones you like and the ones you could do without) to see how both habitat and affect contribute to their strength.

Dr. Janice Staab is a philosophical counselor and life coach. For more information on her services or to schedule your free consultation, e-mail You can also check out her Web site at

Succeed by Running Your Own Race

Aside from a few minor updates, the following post was written while I was training to run my first marathon. OK. It’s a repeat. But at this time of year when New Year’s resolutions begin to fade and motivation wanes, I hope these reflections on meeting a challenge head on will help you stay on or get back on track to your goals!

The race isn’t always to the swift…. OK, maybe the race was to the swift that day. After all, when the group with which I was running the St. Jude Marathon was at about mile 9, we saw a cluster of young gentlemen across a tree-lined lane from us running four abreast with humiliating (for us, not them) ease and precision toward the finish line. They were certainly swift and one of them took the race.

But in other equally significant respects, that marathon was mine!

I was certainly not among the swiftest in the pack of over 11,000. But there were many runners trudging on far behind me. Some did not finish the race at all. But after 6 hours and 7 minutes, I crossed the finish line to receive my finisher’s medal.

Perhaps the coolest part of the whole finish was that I didn’t just collapse from exhaustion after the race. In order to get out of Auto Zone Park (where they kept the finish line), we had to walk up a long, steep flight of stairs. With no rest save the few seconds it took to get my medal and a bottle of water, I hit the stairs and walked the mile back to my hotel with no problems. It was a nice cool down.

Aside from a couple of blisters, I had no pain at all during or after the race. There was never a time when I felt winded or like I couldn’t catch my breath. I felt physically and mentally strong and capable throughout the course.

I can’t recall a time when I’ve felt more attuned to what my body needed from me. I experienced a kind of internal practical wisdom that let me know when to drink, when to eat, when to speed up and when to slow down.

The most striking example for me was between miles 15 and 16. I felt fine one second and the next, my legs began to shake. I had no other symptoms. My mind was clear and pulse was steady. There was nothing to indicate dehydration or over-hydration.

About 60 seconds of negative thinking and wondering how bad it would look to crawl across the finish line quickly gave way to thought. I had read a ton of material on marathon running (Thank you, Julia!) and knew what might happen during the race. Scanning my memory, I decided that this was most likely a matter of low calories.

I downed four of the GU Chomps (essentially, energy gum drops) I had with me along with two starlight mints. Three minutes later or so, I had a Popeye moment. Energy surged into my legs like spinach into his fists. Suddenly, I was a runner again.

Moral of the story? Train as a whole person, not just a pair of legs. Knowledge really is power! If I had not trained my mind and my body for this race, I would not have been able to turn my negative thinking around so quickly. If I had not read up on marathoning before the race, I would not have known what to do to get my runner’s legs working again.

One other little blip in the race cost me some time. A rather large hill at about mile 11 caused me to fall behind my pace group. I was not the only one who fell back on that hill. I know this because I passed two other pace group members later in the race (and ended up beating both of them).

My mistake was spending about a mile trying to catch up with my group rather than just running my own race from that point. Focusing on the pack instead of myself caused me to wear down my energy reserves. I needed to listen to myself in the present moment, not to an ideal I had set up at the start of the race.

Moral of this story? In life and in marathons, run your own race at your own pace! What works for you may not work for everyone. And what works for others may not work for you. Know what you need out of life and go get it. Whether you are passing people or being passed along the way, you’ll finish stronger if you finish on your terms.

Had I not lost time to those two mistakes (neither of which had to do with how well I ran physically), I was on pace to complete the race in about 5 hours and 30 minutes. I will do better than that next time.

But how far I have come from that woman who wondered if she’d finish a ten mile run to one who considers a half-marathon to be a good training run for the real distance!

I learned a lot about myself and my strengths while training for this marathon. I now know that there is no distance in life or otherwise that I cannot cover if I choose to do so.

So, I choose to run more marathons. I can now confidently speak a phrase seen on many a tech shirt at the Expo the day before the race. 26.2 Miles: Been There, Run That!

My running goals and life goals will continue to be set and attained in 2012. What’s your 2012 plan? What do you want to be able to say in December of 2012? Speak the words in your mind now. Then set up a plan to make them your reality! If I can do it, you can too!

Dr. Janice Staab is a philosophical counselor and life coach. For more information on her services or to schedule your free consultation, e-mail You can also check out her Web site at


Finishing Strong: Staying Focused on Your Life Goals


Aside from a few minor updates, the following post was written while I was training to run my first marathon. OK, it’s a repeat. But at this time of year when New Year’s resolutions begin to fade and motivation wanes, I hope these reflections on meeting a challenge head on will help you stay on or get back on track to your goals!

The goal of running 26.2 miles was never really unattainable for me. I’ve always had the basic ability to run the race. However, there were points in my life when, due to a lack of confidence, focus or training, running a marathon seemed like a good or an impossible dream.

All worthy goals are moving targets. And like all worthy goals, my commitment to running the marathon morphed throughout my training. In particular, the greater the distance I became able to run, the greater my desire to go further and faster. The closer I got to race day, the more I found myself plotting which marathon I’d enter next and what the next goal would be.

During the month before the race, allowing my focus to veer off track and on to my next training goal felt uplifting and empowering. But I still had one rather huge hurdle to clear before any new goal made any sense. 26.2 miles. Anything that took my mind off that very tangible goal wasn’t my friend.

Running a marathon isn’t only about feeling good and being successful. Practically speaking, it’s about putting one foot in front of the other repeatedly for a few hours. It is about tackling the cold, the boredom, the distractions, the pains and the doubts with every footfall.

With every step, you have the opportunity to go on or give in. You have the chance to say “This is too much for me” or “I am a match for anything.” Every decision to keep going is a mini victory. And in that sense, every endurance runner wins many races before ever seeing the finish line.

This is perhaps the most useful life lesson in which my marathon training has re-educated me. Having lofty goals and inspiring dreams is an essential part of life. But planning and dreaming do not make it so. No matter how much you wish and want to attain a goal, it will never be yours if it remains merely a figment of your imagination.

There are many adept and practiced dreamers in this world whose fantasies never see the light of day. A lot of people (me for a long time) say it would be cool to run a marathon, but most of them don’t actually do it. Many people imagine what it would be like to own their own businesses, earn college degrees or be in a rewarding relationship. But far fewer folks ever get there.

That’s largely because it’s easier to dream big than to do big. Big doings, unlike big dreams, are composed of hundreds upon hundreds of infinitesimal steps, commitments and re-commitments. Individually, these tiny steps may seem like nothing. But each one is as essential to the accomplishment as any other. Together, they are dreams come true.

There will always be many ways to attain goals and realize dreams. But one inescapable fact remains. Your effort will always be required.

Even if someone plunked a winning lottery ticket in your hand tomorrow and gave you infinite funds to do with as you wish, you’d still have choices to make and actions to take for that money to produce good for you or anyone else. The money might be a convenient tool, but you’d still have to make your own dream happen.

Yes, it’s cool to be able to say I am a marathoner. I know that the training I have undertaken for this experience has changed me in ways that I could never have imagined. And I hope that, perhaps, reading about my experiences has started you thinking about that long time dream goal on your list … and how you might take the initial…and repeated…steps towards accomplishing it.

Dr. Janice Staab is a philosophical counselor and life coach. For more information on her services or to schedule your free consultation, e-mail You can also check out her Web site at



How Doubt Can Help You Reach Your Goals

Aside from a few minor updates, the following post was written while I was training to run my first marathon. OK, it’s a repeat. But at this time of year when New Year’s resolutions begin to fade and motivation wanes, I hope these reflections on meeting a challenge head on will help you stay on or get back on track to your goals!

Have you ever made a decision to change some part of your life only to find it impossible to actually do it? It seemed like a good idea at the time, as most decisions to change do. But when you began to put some effort towards the goal, the good idea quickly changed to a bad dream.

That happened to me as I increased the distance of my training runs before the marathon. The first three miles of any run are always the hardest for me. It takes me awhile to find my rhythm. After that, things generally go much more smoothly.

One day, I was finding it particularly difficult to transition to the smooth phase. I only had six miles scheduled, but my legs felt like even doing two would be a stretch. I finished the run wondering what the heck I had gotten myself into.

In spite of the negative emotions, my goal remained my goal. I was as committed as ever to actually completing the marathon without injury.

Now, as strange as this may sound, I think moments of doubt like this one did more to push me towards my marathon goal than anything else.

When I was a kid, other people’s doubts in my abilities spurred me on to reach the goals I set. If anyone said “You can’t” or “It won’t work,” I inevitably replied, “Yes I can” or “Just watch and learn.” I don’t know if I was really convinced of my abilities at that age. However, I was determined that, whatever abilities I had, no one but me would ever place a limit on them.

Back then, the doubts of others simultaneously aroused my ire and my inner strength. And now, the doubts I had about my ability to run a marathon had the same effect. They made me want to prove them wrong.

Whether they be political, religious or just the results of broad experience, most of us would say that our beliefs largely determine who we are and what we do. I submit that our doubts determine as much about what we do as any long held belief ever could.

Charles Peirce, father of American Pragmatism and the man whose writings were the subject of my graduate work, knew that doubt can be both an obstacle to and a source of creativity. In an essay entitled “The Fixation of Belief,” he says

“Doubt is an uneasy and dissatisfied state from which we struggle to free ourselves and pass into the state of belief; while the latter is a calm and satisfactory state which we do not wish to avoid or to change to a belief in anything else. On the contrary, we cling tenaciously not merely to believing, but to believing just what we do believe.

Thus both doubt and belief have positive effects upon us, though very different ones. Belief does not make us act at once, but puts us in a condition that we shall behave in some way, when the occasion arises. Doubt has not the least such active effect, but stimulates us to inquiry until it is destroyed” (5.372-3).

Doubt and belief are two sides of the same coin. Belief lets us act with confidence, while doubt prompts us to establish a new way of believing. And some ways of doing so will be more challenging than others.

When we doubt our ability to do or understand something, for example, our first impulse is often to get rid of the doubt by whatever means is at hand. Doubt seems to keep our lives from flowing naturally. Dispensing with our doubts allows us to find that sweet spot where action comes smoothly and we can move again.

The trouble is that just moving is not enough by itself. Ideally, we’d like to move forward towards out goals. But when deep doubts are coupled with impatience, and believing in something becomes more important than believing what is so, we are apt to opt for beliefs that don’t serve us simply because they are easy.

Case in point. The easiest thing for me to do when those first few long runs seemed difficult would have been to just believe my doubts. I didn’t yet feel strong, so I could have easily clung to the belief that I just wasn’t (and could not become) a strong runner.

If I had done so, I would have stopped searching for anything else to believe about myself and very likely stopped running entirely … let alone training for a marathon. Believing personal doubts about your abilities does bring a kind of closure to your self-image. But it is a closure that eliminates possibilities for growth.

Instead of believing my own hype, I chose to take my doubts as springboards for finding out what was really true about me. I wanted to prove my own self-doubts wrong!

The fact that I completed the marathon feeling as though I could have kept going is evidence of what I discovered. I may not have been strong at the beginning of my training, but I was capable of strengthening. And I am getting stronger with every breath and every footfall.

Taking my doubts as serious questions rather than foregone conclusions made me look for the truth instead of assuming the doubts represented the truth. The trick is to frame your doubts within questions that can open up opportunities for you to excel.

“How bad did I suck today?” is not a healthy or healing question. “Just how good CAN I get at this?” is! The answer to both questions is essentially the same: as good or bad as you can envision and are willing to work for.

The next time you’re tempted to give into doubt about your ability to reach a goal, embrace the doubt instead of fighting it or succumbing to it. Doubt is nothing more than a state of uncertainty. Whether you overcome the doubts by believing in your best potentials or your worst flaws is your call. Make the right one!

Dr. Janice Staab is a philosophical counselor and life coach. For more information on her services or to schedule your free consultation, e-mail You can also check out her Web site at


Train Your Mind for a Marathon!

Aside from a few minor updates, the following post was written while I was training to run my first marathon. OK, it’s a repeat. But at this time of year when New Year’s resolutions begin to fade and motivation wanes, I hope these reflections on meeting a challenge head on will help you stay on or get back on track to your goals!

It’s a little over a month into my marathon training and I’m happy to report that, in spite of the heat and one minor injury, my training is on schedule. That training involves some pretty strict exercise, nutrition and hydration requirements. But in the past few weeks, I have begun to see that accomplishing a physical goal necessitates training the mind as intensely as you train the body.

Case in point. I had planned to do a 10 mile run one Sunday morning when the meteorologist promised me nothing but blue skies and a breezy 70 degrees only the night before. The meteorologist lied.

Even though I got out pretty early in the day (well, early for me), the sun was already beating down and the thermometer was at 83 and climbing. It topped 91 by the end of my run. I did have enough sense to take a hydrator with me, so I had plenty of ready fluids. But the promised breeze was not to be found. Add to this the fact that I was travelling and hadn’t run in this area recently. I was primed for problems.

The simplest 10 mile route I found was more hill-infested than anything I had run to date. Sure, I had been doing some hill training. But the hill segments I had done up to that point had always been balanced out with some flatter segment to allow my legs to recover.

On this route, there was nothing but steep ups and steep downs as far as the eye could see. The first big hill just kept going on for 1.5 miles. I had run this route a few years ago, but failed to recall just how steep this particular stretch was.

Most of the time, I was just running short uphills followed by the same distance downhill … over and over again for the remainder of the 10 miles. Working into this kind of terrain more gradually would have been the smarter option. But I had set out my course and was determined to complete it.

After 4 miles of this, I really felt myself getting tired. Scanning my body to find the source of the fatigue, I found no cause for it. My legs were feeling strong. The same was true for my arms and my core. My breathing was even and smooth. My heart rate was steady. I had no pain anywhere and it was not the heat.

Out of this moment of confusion, the answer hit me. When I saw the temperature climbing earlier that morning, my first reaction was frustration. I was counting on the weather not hindering my progress. The weather didn’t have to hinder me at all. But somewhere inside, I assumed it would.

To my dread over the weather, I added my uncertainty about the hills. I had no such uncertainty when I planned the route in the first place. But when one doubt about my performance came to mind, another followed closely upon its heels.

 I realized that before I was able to get out and run, I had spent a good two hours dwelling on how difficult the run would be. And guess what? It was difficult!

If I was going to get to mile 10, I needed to change the game plan. So, I began to center my mind on images and thoughts that would generate positive emotions about this run and confidence in myself.

I began to treat each hill as a mini-run in itself. Every time I got to the top of a hill, I celebrated that accomplishment as though I had just completed a marathon. I pictured a giant abacus (some of you still know what those are, right?) and saw myself moving one red ball from the left side of the abacus to the right for every hill I climbed.

I also had a couple of little songs running through my head. “I Feel Good” was a helpful reminder. Sometimes, I changed the words to “I love hills.” Felt like a lie at first. But after awhile, I began to enjoy completing the hills. To the tune of “Jimmy Cracked Corn,” I found myself singing “Yes it’s hot, but I don’t care.” I even pulled out a couple of inspiring hymns.

Silly as this may sound out of context, it worked. The tiredness faded and I was ready to finish the run as strong as ever. It was not my fastest time. But by the end of the run, I knew that I had another 10 miles in me in spite of the heat and hills. To go from thinking I might not get through 5 miles to running 10 and feeling like I wanted to run 10 more shows the power of changing your mental focus.

During this particular run, I was reminded of three truths. First, I am incredibly physically strong. Secondly, I am also incredibly stubborn when I set my mind to something. Finally and most importantly, neither my strength nor my stubbornness can accomplish anything if I am replaying negative messages in my mind.

Mind over matter is more than just a challenge to exert better self-control. It is a simple fact of human life. One way or another, your mind will tell your body what to do and your body will be inclined to listen. Be sure, in whatever you are training for, that you are sending the message your body needs to hear!

Dr. Janice Staab is a philosophical counselor and life coach. For more information on her services or to schedule your free consultation, e-mail You can also check out her Web site at



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