The stories we tell ourselves

It was Saturday 23rd October, 2010.  A normal Saturday by many measures, but on this evening I was busy preparing for the next day.

I set out my lycra short, running socks, running shoes, my Helly Hansen base layer and my Motor-neurone Disease Association running vest. I dug out my race number and safety pins and pinned the number on.

After following a training plan that I had found on the t’interweb, I was in good condition, I was probably the best shape I had been in for many a long year; probably since I had left the Territorial Army in fact.

I had built up from the usual 3 to 4 mile runs I did a couple of times a week, to being able to run 10 to 12 miles fairly comfortably.

So you’d think the prospect of adding an additional 1.1 miles on Sunday 24th October, in the EDF Birmingham Half Marathon would pose little problem or worry.


As I lay in bed that night, I was overcome with a sense of dread. All sorts of stuff was running through my head. Was I going to finish? What if I had a heart attack? What if I died? The little niggling voice in my head going on and on.  

The little tape replaying the ‘handful’ of incidents where sadly people had collapsed and lost their lives whilst running half marathons.

Completely neglecting the fact that millions of people had successfully run and completed such events.

That night was a disturbed night, not the best preparation for such an event.

This is probably a bit of an extreme example, but this is the sort of thing that I have witnessed in myself and others plenty of times when we step into a new situation, into a role we haven’t done before, when we stretch outside of our comfort zone.

See, the thing is the little animals in our brain (the reptilian and mammalian complexes), the brain structures that have stayed with us during the evolutionary development of mankind like to keep us safe. That is their sole purpose in life, to keep us physiologically and socially safe. They do not like change, they do not like unknown, the do not like new.

When faced with something different they start to react and set up warning signs to protect us.

The same thing happened to me this morning.

I had spent yesterday evening in the presence of some fellow coaches at an Enlightened Coach meeting. In the meeting Dax (Moy) shared with the group 5 key steps to leap into 2017 and get momentum and results.

It was a paradoxical experience, on the one had 5 simple steps, 5 things on which to focus and take action that could, would… will produce a significant impact.

By the end of the meeting I felt punchdrunk. So much great content and a few pages of notes and actions.

This morning, I woke with the same types of stories going round in my head “What if…?”, “Who are you to…?”

The animals not liking where the human wants to take the collective.

Now, I realise these are only ‘stories’, a collection of beliefs and attitudes that do not serve me or the people that I am here to serve.

How do I quieten them? How do I get past them?

By creating a powerful and compelling story of where we are going. By reading, visualising and ‘living’ that vision in my imagination. In doing so, I am creating the environment and familiarising the animals with what is coming; creating predictions of the circumstances and outcomes and how we respond to these.

The thing is, the unconscious mind, the place that does most of the day to day processing, filtering and deciding, does not know the difference between ‘real’ and imagined experiences. It just knows they are experiences.

So back to the Birmingham Half Marathon. I might have made my Saturday evening a whole lot better if I had written about completing the event, what the sensation of doing it was like, what I was seeing and hearing. Reading that, visualising it and creating the representation of it.

As it was, I did it. I successfully completed the run and raised some money for MNDA.

My cousin Dave and I having completed the run

My cousin Dave and I having completed the run

Moral of the story… Beware of those stories that come up for you in your head. They aren’t real and it is up to you and I to become aware of them and choose what we want to have happen.

I still get caught out by them once in a while but I know I have the final choice in what I want and what I am going to do about it.