Listen to enough podcast interviews with elite athletes and you’ll start to notice a commonality–many cite the importance of curiosity. Whether it’s wondering how far or fast they can go, or how deep they can dig, masters of the sport are curious. Bringing an element of curiosity into your own running can help you learn, overcome fear, and have more fun.
“I’ve heard athlete after athlete talk about being driven by a curiosity to see ‘what if?’,” sports psychologist and ultrarunner Addie Bracy shares in her book Mental Training for Ultrarunning.
Bracy adds: “Not only does approaching a hard task with curiosity help to create a healthy relationship with vulnerability (something that is required for doing hard things), the performance-enhancing qualities of this mental skill go even further.”
Bracy says that an open mind is one that wants to learn, gain new information, and even challenge currently-held beliefs. Constant growth is crucial for success in any domain, from running trails, dominating the track, or being a CEO at a top-performing business.
Even if you feel like you’re skilled at what you do, choosing to operate from curiosity is an option.”When you do, creativity is expanded and you learn more ways of doing things,” says Bracy.
stepping not fear
Being curious means overcoming fear and apprehension to take risks. This can be intimidating, but Bracy says that’s normal. “You can override and rewire those reactions,” she explains. “One of the most powerful benefits of an open and curious mind is the freedom to respond to the things you encounter rather than making fear-driven assumptions about the challenges you’ll face,” Bracy adds.
This takes practice, but navigating fear and reframing things with a curious mind is a valuable skill. Instead of assuming you know what will happen, taking a “beginner’s mind” approach and staying open to any possibility is a great jumping-off point.
More joy (who doesn’t want more of that?!)
Children are often perfect examples of curiosity. Eager to learn about the world and with less-rigid worldviews than adults, they ask constant questions and are willing to test boundaries–and have fun doing it. Bracy says that neurological studies suggest curiosity makes learning more pleasurable and rewarding.
While we might not always categorize our running training as learning, in essence, that’s what it is, for both our bodies and minds. Approaching each training or running experience with curiosity can help us enjoy the process while maximizing the knowledge we’re able to take away and apply to our next challenge.