"You Talk Too Much"
A paratrooper's tip on how to jump into running and other healthful activities.
Running does wonders for me. So does hiking. And brisk walking too. Yet there’s something different about running, the vigorous clearing and cleansing of body, mind, and spirit. The world looks so much better – and less scary – after a good run. The sky seems bluer, the sun brighter. I feel different, energized and ready to meet the day’s challenges. Problems become lighter, falling easily into perspective.
Some days I enjoy the time spent running. It can be quite calming to watch my feet pound the pavement or trail, my heart pound in my chest, and the breath flow in and out. After a while, my ruminating mind begins to relax, and the rhythm of movement fills my attention. Running can be a great opportunity for mindfulness.
But sometimes I'm not in the mood. I'm tired and distracted, would rather sleep or study. Every step and breath feel heavy, straining against my body’s will to stay put. Because my sensory experience is of distress, my mind does what it's good at: checks out. Daydreams about everything and nothing scream around, becoming a source of agony themselves. I try to bring attention back to my body, but it flies right back out.
The good news is that no matter how much I dislike the experience, I always feel the dividends afterward. And usually, by the end of the run, my mind and body have settled down somewhat; the hardest part is getting into it.
But on second thought, the main challenge is not the actual physical feelings while running. It’s the thinking about running, the stress and fear and avoidance. The mental wheels might begin churning the night before with complex calculations of whether it’s better to shower now or tomorrow after running. Or maybe it’s better to run the day after tomorrow because I’m tired and need to get up early. But it’s been three days since I last ran and waiting two more will make five and that’s too long, especially because I have an important event coming up and want to be feeling and thinking my best.
After a brief break for sleep, the thinking goes on. On first thought, I’m going to get dressed right into running clothes and shoes so that I’ll be ready right after getting the kids up and out. But maybe I should run before lunch when the day has warmed up, so regular clothes are called for now. But maybe I’m just being lazy. And besides, running fast in the cold will warm me up for days.
And so on. And on.
The torturous thinking ends only together with actually running, because whether or not I enjoy the experience, showing up and getting through it clears and cleanses my body, mind, and spirit.
However, I must admit, all the stress around running is probably not a very healthy thing. And that’s what I want to focus on today: how to run when you don’t want to run without mitigating the benefits of your run. (The same message applies to any other healthful activity that requires effort, as many do.)
A good friend of mine, who served in the Israel Defense Forces paratroopers, taught me a valuable way out of my mental misery. This fellow commanded a unit in that mess called southern Lebanon of the 1990's and runs marathons all the time, so he knows a thing or two about moving while under physical and mental duress.
Whenever I share with him my reckonings and reservations about running and not running and how far to run and how fast to run it, hoping for some sage paratrooper wisdom, my friend chuckles and says, “Shmuel Chaim, you talk too much.”
He doesn’t mean to be mean. That’s just the sage wisdom he was taught in the paratroopers. Whenever a member of the platoon was tuckered out after twenty miles of a night trek carrying full gear, with another twenty miles to go, and suggested that maybe it’s time to rest, his comrades would encourage the straggler: “You talk too much.” If he complained some more, they explain it better: “You talk too much.”
I’m not much of a paratrooper, but the message is the same. When my mind and mouth start rolling, I’ve learned to tell myself, often out loud, “You talk too much.” I’m not mocking myself as a babbler, but honestly recognizing my tendency to overthink and firmly declaring that I’m now shifting to action. It’s a candid way of saying: “Stop thinking about running and just run. Or don’t run. But don’t think and talk about running.”
“You talk too much” is one of the many lessons that running, and all exercise for that matter, come to teach us. The mind and mouth have important roles in the human experience. They should guide our actions. But when they invade movement itself, they only impede. Proper movement of life flows from the thinking mind, but action is not thought.
This message extends to any productive activity that requires effort. In fact, I’m listening to it regarding the newsletter you’re reading right now.
Before launching The Healthy Jew last week, I invested much thought in what topics to discuss, how often to write, what medium to use, and so on. I discussed various options with friends and family. Eventually, we decided to begin with this weekly Substack, and then worked for two days straight to get the word out. (In case you’re wondering, we’re closing in on 100 subscribers!) That’s where the strategizing phase ends, and it’s time to shift to the action of writing.
But my thinking mind, always seeking to avoid dwelling in exertion, has other ideas. Maybe I should post about The Healthy Jew on this forum or that website? What are my goals for this month, and for the next? Let’s make a list of topics to write about for the next three months. And, of course, check every five minutes how many new subscribers have joined the journey. And on and on.
There is a solution. I can tell myself, kindly but firmly, “You talk too much.” Post or don’t post. Make the list or don’t make the list. Check or don’t check. None of it really matters. What’s important is to sit and write good content for you fellows to enjoy and share. Which I’ve just finished doing for today.
One Suggestion: If you find your mind thinking too much about whether you should exercise now or later – or any other healthful action – try telling yourself, out loud, kindly but firmly: “You talk too much.” Then take the action. Notice if acting without thinking goes simpler and smoother.