Friday, July 25, 2008

The Power of Positive Pessimism

As runners, one of the things we constantly have to deal with is all this Power of Positive Thinking blather from so-called running experts. It’s enough to make me resort to antiquated, middle America slang: It’s tomfoolery!

On several occasions, I’ve suspended my uninterrupted stream of cynicism to adopt the CAN DO attitude. What has it gotten me? How about a huge credit card bill, public humiliation, a scared, malnourished llama, and one macing. Each of these stories is hilarious and sad in their own right but I’m not going into them now. Depositions are still being taken in two of the incidents which precludes further explanation.

The point is that Positive Thinking, in a runners world, is a byproduct of training (seed), organization (soil) and dedication (water). It’s the flower that grows from the these ingredients. Not the other way around. That’s pure poppycock!

Positive Thinking won’t get you a PR when you show up on race day undertrained and covered in llama dung. Balderdash!

I believe in the power of Positive Pessimism. When preparing for a race – a 5k, 10 miler, marathon, any distance – I assume I need to do better than my training has gone so far. I assume the wind must be at my back during those training runs. I assume I don’t have nearly as much time to train as the calendar indicates. Basically, I live in fear that the street will implode just as I hit stride when I get to the race.

When I show up on race day however, I know that I did the requisite training. I stuck to my plan. I CAN push through when things get tough. I am able to wrestle an attacking llama to the ground. This sounds like Positive Thinking but its really a reminder that I’ve already fought these battles during my training. My fear of failure has blossomed into race day confidence.

But it wasn’t the Positive Thinking claptrap that accomplished this. When’s the last time you saw Tony Robbins win the Boston Marathon? Answer: Never. (And Game, Set, Match to Nitmos! Take that T.R.)

Positive Thinking sometimes leads to its unwanted uncle, Unfounded Optimism. And race day disappointment.

I think this Positive Thinking bunkum gets a little carried away sometimes. Try a little Positive Pessimism on for size. Not sure you trained enough for the race? Guess what? You’re probably right. Think you’re not pushing hard enough to get that desired PR? Right on. You’re not.

Think positively pessimistic.

Prepare for the worst race day weather and most difficult course imaginable. Assume the other runner’s are you-hating ninjas disguised in moisture wicking garments. Then, when the gun goes off and you find the conditions aren’t that bad, who gets the credit? (Besides me, of course – blushing.)

Positive thinking? That’s a bunch of hooey.

Pessimism. Positive Pessimism.

And, maybe, a small fear of llamas.

Happy trails.

Here’s an interesting book I found online that seems to have pre-stolen, written, edited, and published my thoughts before I got around to posting. I smell another restraining order!
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The esteemed Mizfit has asked me to answer some of her viewer mail running related questions over at her site. Check it out. Notice how I worked “fartlek” into a response. Awesome. And remember to leave comments complimenting my masculinity, intelligence, and llama-wrestling abilities. Here’s some starter words to work in to the comments: “rugged”, “Herculean”, “gazelle-like”, “Cary Grantish”, and “foxy”.

Just so we’re clear, here’s words NOT to work in: “bottom feeder”, “imbecile”, “jackhole” and “Andy Dickish”.

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I'll be on vacation next week. Will I bother to post? Who knows? I haven't decided if what I'm feeling is apathy or contempt for all of you. If you get yourselves a post, you're welcome. Everyone behave now while I'm away.

42 comments:

Xenia said...

Thank you for giving a better name to what has powered me through most of life. Positive Pessimism sounds so much better than Fear of Failure.

Enjoy your vacation. We'll try not to t.p. your blog while you're gone.

Pokey said...

Love it.....sounds like I need a little more positive pessimism in my running life!!!

Hope you have a great vacation ;)

Danielle in Iowa said...

Woah, before reading your guest spot, I didn't think a snark-free Nitmos existed!

Sarah said...

I call it "disaster preparedness." If I always expect the absolute worst to happen, it's a pleasant surprise when sometimes the opposite occurs (operative word being "sometimes"). This was the fail-sure tactic with which I approached what little "dating" I did in college and graduate school. Somehow I still managed to get married...at the age of 30. Yeah, I'm a slow learner.

Have fun on vacation. Are you actually going somewhere or are you just going to sit around your house in your gold thong and order your slaves, er, children, to bring you ice-cold beverages on silver trays?

Vanilla said...

Have fun on your vacation. I already feel sorry for your family, having to spend all that time with you.

Kristina said...

Were you maced by the llama? Just wondering, in case I ever meet one in a dark alley.
Have a good vacation; now I might actually get some work done next week.

aham23 said...

ah, raceday disappointment. the evil red headed step sister to raceday confidence. damn if you do and damn if you dont. later.

KC Stine said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
KC Stine said...

If I'm pessimistic about the optimistic parts of my training, will that affect me on race day? Or will it effect me? This is too confusing, I'd better lie down, or should I lay down. Oh never mind…….

tfh said...

I wish I could take this post and wallpaper the house of the woman who wrote "The Secret" with it.

I'm off to take the Defensive Pessimism quiz. Hope your vacation isn't too lousy.

Viper said...

Thanks for pointing out another area I don't need to work on.

Your guest post? tl;dr.

And for the record,I have chafe-marks that are more Cary Grantish than you.

Marcy said...

LMAO Amen!!

"foxy" eh? I think I'll stick to Andy Dickish :P

Lily on the Road said...

Enjoy your Vacay, does Mrs. Nitmos and the kids go to another location while you are off work?? Just asking!

Thanks for the proof that positive thinking is a crock of dewwey....Gah, now I can take off my Pollyanna rose coloured glasses and hunker down with Positive Pessimism....feels much better!! LOL....rather like unbunching your shorts....

*aron* said...

love this! i think thats how i have been thinking the passed couple week and especially coming up with race goals... eek!

have fun on vacation!!!

Frayed Laces said...

I prefer to call if "you f*ing suck, you lame-o." I tell myself this before every race, and then proceed to have the fast me race the slow me throughout the course. I win every time.

Amanda said...

OMG I am dying, this is hilarious and I'm trying to decide whether to agree or try to play devil's advocate.

Crabby McSlacker said...

It's awesome to find this nice little island of pessimism in the saccharine sea of positivity that is the fitness blogging world.

My approach to life is to assume, plan, and prepare for the worst but be pleasantly surprised when it doesn't happen.

When the worst does happen I whine and complain and carry on, but at least I'm not surprised.

Kevin said...

Positive Pessimism? Isnt that oxymoronic?

Ms. V. said...

This just made me feel better about my lousy running lately.

Marathon Me said...

It's like whenever you are before a race and everyone starts listing off all the reasons why they will have a bad race:
I've been sick, totally injured, drank too much last night (although I've used this one), etc.

Then they go out and crush you. But just in case they don't they trotted out the excuses early.

The Laminator said...

Oh boy, THIS is what I have to listen to before I head out to San Fran for my marathon next week?

Still, I plan to crush everyone who stands between me and my marathon goals...does that count as positive pessimism or just humble arrogance...

I guess I'll let my shoes do the talking and let you know after.

Have a great vacay...although I'm sure the global market economy has just increased by 10% just from the news of your leave of absence...

Lisa Slow-n-Steady said...

i'm still trying to get my mind around the concept of positive pessimism.

happy vacation!

SLB said...

Stuff yourself silly and them come over to my challenge!

Blyfinn said...

Good stuff I will incorporate this into my goal setting post.

Jenn said...

I think positive pessimism is similar to me always finding a worse situation than the one I'm in. As in, hey I have a flat tire and it's raining, but at least I'm not dead. No?

Please, please write a post on the malnourished llama. That songs like blogging gold.

Scott said...

I used that technique during the ultra. Man, I bet it's going to be cold and miserable up North in Vermont during the race. Hey, look it's race time and its 95 degrees with 80% humidity. Awesome! It's not cold and miserable! Excellent! :)

P.S. To answer your? I'd guess probably 40% walking in the 100. It was a vicious cycle. "Hey I can't wait until a hill so I can take a walk break. Man this hill sucks, it's tough climbing, I can't wait until I can run.." Repeat. So lot's of walking but it wasn't much of a break...

Laura said...

I love this technique. In my first marathon, there was a huge hill at mile 15 that we were warned about over and over. I was terrified of it, so when it actually came - TOTALLY not that bad!

sRod said...

Hmmm, interesting race approach. Maybe it's worth taking a shot. No, no, I'm being serious. If you are anticipating the worst and then don't get it, you'll end up happier, right?

Highway Kind said...

Partly it's cultural. I think that positive thinking has a greater hold in America. The traditional default English attitude is that everything is screwed and all you can do is get on with it as best you can.

Unfortunately too many business-suits and lifestyle pundits are fond of wishful ideas; so there is an interesting battle between native cynicism and clich├ęs of self actualisation

e said...

When I began reading this post, I assumed I wouldn't be able to relate. But, I did! Thank you, pessimism!

Jess said...

hmm positive pessimism usually calms my race fears too...enjoy your vacay

Dr. J said...

Actually my fear of being mauled by a lion led to my fastest 10K in South Africa :-)

Nice blog!! Thanks!

Non-Runner Nancy said...

Been trying to follow A.R. way too long and it sucked. Thanks for clueing me in. I've been going about this all wrong.

Marathon Maritza said...

You need a vacation, dude. Your last 3 posts have been really grouchy.

"Assume the other runner’s are you-hating ninjas disguised in moisture wicking garments." - I'm totally using this visualization at my marathon.

ColinFDM said...

Thanks for your post on MizfitOnline. I'm just getting started with running again, and adding in some "pick ups" cut minutes off my miles this morning. Damndest thing.

thebets said...

"Balderdash"....a seriously underused word in the English language. Thanks for that. I think I'm going to try to use it as much as possible this week and see if anyone notices.

Viv said...

Hope you enjoying you vacation!

I will quote my pessimistic mother..."prepare for the worst and expect nothing but the worst"

maybe I lost it in translating from Spanish to English.

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