It can be a simple thing to run. Get up and go. You can be happy enough running this way.

But you can’t fulfil your potential at speed, distance or turn-around.

If you want to increase your running ability you need to learn to manage the energy systems your body uses. You can learn about the Phosphagen System that gives you an immediate energy boost for explosive hill climbs, the short-term Glycolysis (anaerobic) System and the long term Aerobic System that use carbohydrates, fats, or proteins to produce energy.

Thinking is like this too. It can be a simple thing. You could just assume that your instinct is the best way forward and do that. The end.

You can do okay if you think like this. Or rather, if you let your brain habits lead your thinking like this. But you can’t fulfil your thinking potential.

If you want to increase your thinking ability you need to learn to side-step some of the systems your brain automatically uses.

The human brain is hardwired to short-cut making sense of our world. To do this it uses a very powerful, unconscious process of pattern recognition and emotional tagging. This functionality developed as humans have evolved over thousands of years. It helps us cope with the complexity of our environment to do routine tasks efficiently and to recognise life-threats in time.

But your brain doesn’t just like patterns – it LOVES them. So it over applies this instinct to everything.

Recognizing patterns is constantly in the ‘on’ position.

The brain automatically uses the existing patterns it has stored as a template for what you are currently experiencing. It uses those patterns to interpret everything it takes in. This means we don’t actually ever experience the world the way it is. We encounter it though our brain’s thinking habits.

In this way, sometimes our minds play tricks on us. They can distort what we’re seeing now to make it fit what we saw before. They can reignite the emotions we previously attached to similar but different past events so that they feel just the same. Then we think we’re facing the same thing and we react the same way.

That’s why a hint of fragrance can make you think of your Granny, or the shape of that man’s head over there can make you feel angry.

I’m sharing this with you because you bought TRAIL Magazine so I assume you want to increase your trail running capability and enjoyment.

One of the ways to do that is to play with speed on fartlek runs.

Another way is to play with your thinking patterns while you’re out on the trail.

Here are four ways you can do that:

Your brain automatically gives more weight to events that have happened recently, or are dramatic and so have hung around in your consciousness. You can deliberately choose a less attention-demanding pattern to think about on your run.

For example, instead of automatically focussing on that person who is frustrating you, think of all those who have supported you - list what you appreciate about each one. Or decide to think of ways you could show kindness to ‘peripheral’ people in your usual life’s movements. Perhaps you could think about your legacy.

Secondly, sometimes we use snap judgements to form our position on something. These might get us moving fast, but often take us off in the wrong direction.

So, as you prepare to go on your run, identify a position you hold about someone or something. List all of the assumptions you’ve made. Ask yourself if those are true. Think of other possible assumptions.

This might lead to you having to apologise, or backtrack. But you’ll be moving better for it.

Third, we sometimes anchor our thinking on one piece of information in a way that distorts our perception of the whole. You might have seen this kind of fixation in dinner-table discussion or committee meetings where one event that gets a lot of airtime unduly influences an important conversation.

You can play with this thinking habit by dedicating your run time to ‘zooming out’ to find ways in which that one piece of information is not the whole picture.

I remember a coaching client trying this and ending his run with the insight that, when he looked at all the admirable things his CEO had done in the past, she deserved to be trusted for this new change which otherwise made no sense to him.

Fourth, at times we let our thinking follow completely false analogies. Once we’ve made a comparison to something else which went particularly well or badly, we get hooked into that other experience and seldom stop to check the accuracy of the comparison. We even start feeling about this event the same way we did about that other unrelated one.

As you run you can play the ‘Why this is not like that’ game.

Learning to manage nutrition, hydration and recovery are essential for good trail running. And playing with your cognitive patterns is essential to good thinking.

Play with speed. Play with thinking patterns. Run into your potential.

Or you can just muddle along – you’ll probably be okay.

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