Sunday, 16 June 2013

Problem solving steps: running

If you are a regular reader you will already know that I am a real advocate of running in terms of the physical and mental health benefits.  It is very understandable for other magazine writers and bloggers to talk about the physical side of running - the weight loss, increased stamina, toned muscles and so on.  Yes, these are all very true and such writers are correct in promoting these benefits.  But you don't see so much about the mental health benefits and how we can end up thinking differently, simply by going for a run.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
I look back on my career which has included taking practitioner training in cognitive behavioural therapy training, CBT for short.  This is helpful in coaching people to work through problems in ways where they are more likely to come up with a good solution.  Briefly, CBT often involves reflecting and defining what the actual problem is, what the options are and the consequences of following those different routes.  A kind of "stepping back" to think things through, rather than knee-jerk reactions which often fail; thoughts, emotions and our reactions.  That's CBT in a very crude nutshell.

Funnily enough I often find myself following many of these steps myself many years later (practicing what I preach, so to speak) but running takes it to another level altogether.  It's amazing!

Running through problems
Often when I go for a run, it will be for a specific reason, apart from needing to stay in good shape and not grind to a halt completely.  I set off with the definite intention of solving a problem during the run.  If my run is for an hour, I always seem to spend the first 20 minutes warming up and reminding myself the run will get easier - and it does.  Those first 20 minutes / 2+ miles is always the hardest - legs alternating between being stiff and then like jelly.  But once I've got into a good rhythm and my muscles are warm, that's when the problem solving starts, plus I'm really enjoying the run.

I tend to go through a few minutes thinking "how is this making me feel" and then I recognise the anxiety it has caused me.  Then comes the resolve to get it sorted, with the determination it's not going to get the better of me and reminding myself I've had these issues many times before.  I often mull over the different ways I could approach it, or more likely to think of the routes which haven't worked so far.

Then BINGO! I hit upon an idea!  This is the beauty of running - it brings out the creative side of my thinking, I often get really good ideas that I know I wouldn't otherwise have.  I can testify many of these more inspired ideas really have worked, almost to the point of surprising myself.

One problem I do find, however, might seem a bit strange.  By the time I get back home, kick my running shoes off and head for the shower, I often have problems remembering exactly what the solution was!  This is very frustrating at times!  However, this more often gets solved by "talking to myself" about the solution while I'm still running, almost like becoming a human Dictaphone.  That often works.

The kind of solutions.....
These can vary enormously.  Sometimes a practical solution but more often it's about how I am going to deal with a work related issue.  How am I going to steer a conversation I need to have with a colleague?  How am I going to convince someone they need to change their mind about something?  Am I over reacting to something?  You get the drift.

Apart from knowing what to do, running also helps me stand back from these problems, a way of keeping these things in perspective so they don't become all-consuming.  A kind of "rising above" things which I find so helpful.

Different types of exercise?
As you know, I cycle as well as run.  For some reason I don't get the same effect from cycling but that doesn't stop me enjoying that but for slightly different reasons.  Cycling leads to other kinds of thinking: reflecting, enjoying the surroundings, "flip this hill is getting steeper" and planning things for the future.

Perhaps with running, it's the sheer simplicity that makes it work so well?  Alternatively perhaps it's the more noticeable rush of endorphins?  Well, whatever it is, it seems to work for me and that's why I'm so keen to spread the word about running being such a great thing to do.  It's not just about losing weight etc. It's about taking steps to maintain good mental health and avoid going into downward spirals which can lead to anxiety, depression etc.  Becoming a runner is one of the best things I've ever done!

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