I recently ran my first 8-mile trail race. This is something I’ve been talking about doing since February. What’s been stopping me? It’s hard! Especially in Santa Barbara, where almost all of our trails lead straight up. So I was pleasantly surprised to find the training challenging, but rewarding. And the race itself wasn’t as difficult as I’d imagined. I also got to share the experience with my husband, sister, and brother-in-law — which was essential in the beginning when I really didn’t want to run uphill and during race week when I was feeling under the weather and that maybe I wouldn’t be well enough to race. Definitely, the best part was meeting at the finish line with giant smiles on our faces.

You never know what you are going to get out of setting a goal until you actually do it. I did the race for the challenge. I also wanted to do something that forced me to get outside more and explore the beautiful area where I live. What I didn’t expect was how much I’d learn about myself and how big of a mirror the trail would be for me. 

Right before the race started, a runner asked if there was any single track (a trail wide enough for one runner). The answer was yes. I wondered why he asked and whether that was a good thing or a bad thing. Well, I learned my answer. 

When I was on the wider part of the trail, I could see more. I could see people in front of me, next to me, and I could hear the people behind me. I noticed myself worrying that I was going too slow. I felt fatigued and it seemed to take more energy to run.

When I got on the single track it was a completely different experience. I felt so much stronger. I was able to run faster. I couldn’t see anyone ahead of me or hear anyone behind me. It was just me running outside. I had an overwhelming urge to smile because I felt so much happiness.

I realized that when the trail was wide my energy would scatter. I’d think more about what I was doing and I’d feel weaker. When the trail was narrow I felt focused and supported. Like all my energy was moving in one direction — the direction I wanted to go — and I could run so much faster. I loved it.

I realized this must be a physical experience of what is happening all the time when we are trying to do multiple things at once versus focusing on one activity at a time and in earnest. I’ve been thinking about ways I can build in trees and overgrown bushes in my real life to block out noise and keep me focused. Here’s a couple that I’ve come up with:

  1. A timer. I’m using my phone right now, but a cute little timer that sits on my desk is in my future because I don’t want a reason to pick up my phone if I’m in the zone. Right now I’m working in 20 minute increments. That means I set the timer for 20 minutes and do nothing but the task I’ve decided to focus on. After 20 minutes, I can switch or keep going.
  2. The Productivity Planner. This planner is geared to getting one important thing done per day. You can write in other tasks, but I ignore that section and simply fill out the top. It lays open on my desk so that I can be reminded if my mind wanders away from what my objective is for the day.
  3. Getting into the Vortex: Guided Meditations from Abraham Hicks. I’m typically not into guided meditations, but if you are a fan of the Law of Attraction, I think it’s worth a look. I like to listen to these meditations at night if I’m having trouble falling asleep and also in the mornings. I also listen to them in my car when I’m particularly upset about news I’ve heard, or if I’m feeling frazzled. You might find it to be pricier than other apps, but I’ve found it to be well worth it. I particularly like the one on financial abundance.

If I knew there was a way to just stay on the single track in perpetuity, I probably wouldn’t opt for it. I’d want to see what was going on, have a look around, interact, and collect information. But for those times when I need to get something done, when I’m craving nothing more than to be in the flow but can’t seem to get myself there, these are simple ways that help me (and hopefully you, too) start to pull in and focus.

I’d love to hear what you think! Also, I just ordered the book Essentialism, so if that turns out to be as awesome as everyone says, I’ll let you know.