This essay is part of our summer series called “Running for His glory,” focusing on the intersection between running and faith. I met Kristy through an online writers group called Hope*writers. I am grateful for her perspective on how to do battle against negative self-talk. She brings a unique perspective as an occupational therapist and as someone who uses running for self-care.
By Kristy Wallace
Have you ever considered how our thoughts can become viral? Our internal dialogue impacts every choice we make. Sometimes, the volume is loud. Other times, it is subtly humming in the background without our conscious awareness.
As an occupational therapist working in a chronic pain management setting, I have learned the value of tuning in to these thoughts. What are we telling ourselves? Is it true? Can it be reframed? Our internal dialogue can become more of a hurdle to overcome than our literal physical struggles.
I have worked with individuals who were physically healed from their injuries, but powerful thoughts and beliefs about their disability lingered. One particular individual rigidly believed that if he stood for too long, he would become paralyzed and end up in a wheel chair. There was no medical indication that supported this as a rational belief. Activity avoidance and fear became his day to day reality. His thoughts trapped him.
The entire treatment team worked hard to bring awareness to his thoughts, shine light on what was true and untrue, and then reframe the language he used. He learned that how he talked to himself could actually worsen his physical experience of symptoms. While this is an extreme example, it testifies to the power of our thoughts and beliefs in driving how we all navigate this life.
After long days of working in the realm of other people’s “thought viruses” and difficulties surrounding the pain experience, running became therapeutic for me. Running was a powerful act of self-care. I celebrated the gift of moving joints, contracting muscles, a beating heart, and lungs that took in oxygen. The rhythm of inhaling and exhaling was an opportunity to focus on the battle against my own thoughts gone viral.
As a Christ-follower, I know that God cares greatly about my thought life. Paul writes in Romans 12:2 that we are to be transformed by the renewal of our minds. Running is a tangible area where I can intentionally monitor, guide, and redirect my thoughts.
As I round the corner and see the hill ahead, my initial thoughts are: “I can’t do that. I will just walk when I get to the hill. I’m so tired.”
My awareness of those kind of “I can’t” statements has significantly improved in recent years. Instead, I work to argue back: “Kristy, yes you can. You may be tired but your legs are strong. Your heart is beating and pumping, delivering oxygen throughout your entire body.”
Eventually, the language shifts from first person to second person and back to first person. “I am strong. God has given me this body, these muscles, my eyes, oxygen. I can do this. It is hard but worth it. I will feel so much better when I accomplish this. I am rocking this and I am going to finish. I am determined.”
This inner banter takes conscious awareness and effort. We have to listen to our inner dialogue and fight back when needed. It can be as simple as turning a sentence around. “I can hardly breathe,” can switch to: “I can adjust my pace and breathe in through my nose, out through my mouth. I feel the oxygen going into my cells. My heart and lungs are strong.”
Sometimes fighting back may be meditating on a specific verse and repeating it in my head as I run. One of my favorites is Philippians 4:13, which says, “I can do all things [including running up this hill] through Christ who gives me strength.”
I mull over the words of Philippians 4:8: “Whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy…” Paul instructs us to literally think about these things.
Do you ever think about setting aside time to think? Can I encourage you to use your runs to do just that? Proactively, you can set up specific thought themes for your runs as an anti-viral strategy. There are 8 themes to choose from in Philippians 4:8 alone.
Here are some examples of how I would work through this verse and incorporate it as “thought themes” into my run:
Monday is my “truth” run. On that day, I focus on what is true. What I do know deep in my soul? What is true about my surroundings? “I am a daughter of the King and this ground on which I run is firm.”
Tuesday is my “noble” run. What are good, honorable, upright, and worthy things in my life? I can think about how it is good to carve out time for running. I am honoring this body God has given me. I focus on my posture. Am I upright and aware of where my head is both literally and figuratively? Is it way out in front of my shoulders? Or is it stacked upon my shoulders in a way that is more mechanically advantageous to carry the weight? This is a worthy effort I am putting forth today.
On Wednesday, I might focus on what is “right” in my life. It is easy to dwell on what is wrong. I can use this time to celebrate what is rather than is not. I am grateful for the air I am breathing. I remember the truth that God will one day right every wrong. I rest in knowing it is not up to me to make everything right.
“Pure” is my Thursday theme. I look for things that point to purity as I run. I mull over synonyms for “pure” such as refined, solid, clarified, distilled, neat, straight, or flawless. This is an opportunity to go on a hunt for scenery that reflect these adjectives. I notice the clear, blue sky punctuated by the few crisp white clouds. The beads of water that sit delicately on the leaves of bushes catch my eye. A flawless flower blooms along the path.
On “Lovely” Friday, I think about how lovely it is to have the time, space and capacity to run. It may not be as far or fast as would I like, but I focus on how lovely it is to be able to live, move, and have our being in Him (Acts 17:28). With every step, I celebrate how lovely it is to move.
That one verse is full of ideas for intentional “thought themes.” Let me encourage you to start off your next week meditating on those words as you plan your own ‘thought themes” for your upcoming runs. Visualize chasing after admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy things as you pound the pavement or hit the trail. The battle against negative self-talk is worth every effort.
Kristy is an occupational therapist, wife, and mom who lives in the Pacific Northwest. Passionate about health and wellness as well as lifelong learning and transformation, she is honored to share what she is learning in the hopes of inspiring others to chase after Jesus, the ultimate source of all well-being.