It just dawned on me that I’ve been writing the same blog entry since late April. Well, not the same same. There are superficial differences. The first describes running as a meditative act. Then it’s on to shoes, whether or not chic, techno-color Nikes are worth the sticker shock. The when and how of injury is next, and finally comes food, the tempestuous relationship between umami and American culture.
Thematically though, they’re all much ado about that buzzword mindfulness, a fashionable term the New York Times skewers as meaningless. It is true when nuanced language becomes corporate speak something elemental evaporates. Then again, is self-awareness in mass really so bad?
Permit me 5,000 characters (with spaces) and the allegory of running to make my case—no, it’s not.
When training for a marathon, the body becomes an epicenter of painstaking regiment. Runner’s World pegs measured runs as key, “no more than six during the season to avoid overtraining and fatigue.” As is nutrition, specifically 300 to 350 grams of carbs per day. So too is normalizing outdoor conditions, and clothing, of course, shoes, nutrient timing, hydration. The list is long and meticulous. In my research, I’ve discovered cleaver ways to “bombproof” my quads alongside tips to roll out calf cramps. I’ve learned two kiwis contain as much potassium as a banana, important stuff if your legs approximate old sailing rope.
In the pursuit of ever increasing distances at decreasing split times, preparation is the Holy Grail. In fact, the same could be said of most aspects of life, except college midterms, which everyone knows are best taken under the guise of nonchalance. And preparation can’t help but conjure Rocky-esque training montages, actor Sylvester Stallone goose-stepping railroad ties, chasing pesky chickens, hot-footing up the stone steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
What we don’t see, however, is him sitting quietly, legs a folded lotus, or maybe not, maybe they dangle from a park bench while he ponders the intrinsic value the bolo punch.
Is that contemplative mumbo-jumbo really necessary?
Uniformly sports psychologists answer yes. In an interview with Medill Reports, University of Tennessee professor and former president of the Association for Applied Sports Psychology Craig Wrisberg says, “The skills, the techniques, the mental demands …, it’s all about the participant and how they manage their focus and composure under pressure.” And never have competitive events so consumed the American public, whether they’re attended, broadcast live on television, radio, or streaming, or analyzed 24/7 on myriad sports networks like ESPN, ALN, MLB Network, NBA TV, NBCSN, Fox Sports, ONE World Sports, the Golf Channel, and the World Fishing Network, to name a few.
The field of sports psychology dates back to the 1920s, but not until the 1984 Summer Olympics did it gain prominence when nations began hiring dedicated psychologist to help athletes navigate the rigors of world competition. Today, a quick google search reveals over 40 nationwide programs offering advanced degrees in Sports Psychology, a “hot” industry according to the American Psychological Association that nets practitioners between 60,000 to $100,000+ annually to help competitors do what running great Alberto Salazar calls number nine of the 10 Golden Running Rules: “Tackle Doubt Head-on.”
For the casual runner, anything over a mile or two may be doubt inducing, list or no list. Even more so coming from Salazar, a man whose running prowess drove him to the brink of death on multiple occasions. Of the New York City Marathon, Salazar states, “The pain of running is like the pain of drowning. A kind of weariness sets in and you lose the will to fight. What I could do is simply push myself through that exhaustion.”
Great. Next time I lace up my sneakers I’ll imagine going for a quick drowning around the neighborhood.
Joking aside, Salazar’s comments illuminate the true power of humankind: our adaptability. We can, should we choose, immerse ourselves in nearly any circumstance and find a way to persist—such is the strength of our will. In addition, studies show that willpower is best described as a behavioral muscle, meaning it can be trained, toned, and refined over time to reflect exact preferences. Think of it as the very point of the spearhead that is attached to the spear of self-control.
The trick to sharping that point lay in short bursts of restraint. How, for example, do I take the next twenty strides when what I really want is to be wheeled off to the nearest waterpark? Perhaps pick micro-goals, the stop sign just ahead and then that weeping willow around the bend. Or maybe sing Lionel Richie's "All Night Long" start to finish letting your mind roam beyond each meniscal cartilage scrunching step. These are coping strategies that require us to identify our situation, consider what worked in the past and understand what may work now, and choose corrective measures.
Circumspection is invaluable to remediation, but nowhere has it been more impactful than in the treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder via Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), which:
Combines the basic strategies of behavior therapy with eastern mindfulness practices, residing within an overarching dialectical worldview that emphasizes the synthesis of opposites … Change strategies in DBT include behavioral analysis of maladaptive behaviors and problem-solving techniques, including skills training, contingency management (i.e., reinforcers, punishment), cognitive modification, and exposure-based strategies
So successful has DBT been that there are now multiple adaptions for various outpatient settings, from substance misuse to eating disorders for adults and adolescent alike. In fact, the stories associated with DBT are nothing short of astonishing.
Thankfully, The Mental Health Center has made DBT, DBT Lite, and DBT informed treatments a priority. Consequential, 18 (soon to be 19) MHCGM clinicians provide hundreds of clients per month with this particular mindful, life-changing treatment, more than any CMHC in New Hampshire. This increase, however, brings up a few related rhetorical questions: in what reality is the expanded accessibility to such a treatment considered a bad thing, corporate speak or not?
By contrast, what about running? Do those who prize running do so because it’s widely inaccessible?
No. The art of running is that all you have to do is lace up and let go. Similarly, it’s hard to argue exclusivity is what makes Dialectical Behavioral Therapy valuable. In fact, the opposite is true. The more people who practice mindfulness techniques, the better off we all are.
I do realize I am comparing incomparable things, i.e., committing weak analogy. It’s just the way I make sense of the world, by seeing a little of this in a little of that and a little of that in a little of this. Sometimes the interconnectedness is hard to miss.
 Dimeff, L., & Linehan, M.M. (2001). Dialectical Behavioral Therapy in a Nutshell. The California Psychologist, 34, 10-13