Relaxation and sense of purpose, not stress and lost sense of self.
There is a general strategy 400 meter track and field runners, or quarter milers, utilize. Even though the race is one brief lap around the track, an all-out sprint isn’t feasible the entire way. For many, the first 50 meters is a dead sprint. Adrenaline is pumping, you are vying for position once you come out of your lanes, and you want to use the physics of that first turn to whip you around.
The next 250 meters is a controlled deceleration into a fast but sustainable stride. Once you hit the second turn, you should be driving your arms (as the pumping of your arms drives the pace of your legs) and lifting your knees.
The final 100 is where you must finish strong. The best in the world relax their face, hands, and shoulders, drive their knees and arms forward, control their breathing, and focus on the line. Note, the majority of their strategy involves relaxation and reconnection with purpose (i.e. the start that has now become the finish).
For our Guyhood readers in higher education, final examinations and term papers loom. About now, you’re likely in the final turn, doing your best to drive yourself forward and keep your form through what has been an exhausting semester. Your instinct might be, as you round the final turn into the last 100 meters, to tense up and lose connection with your purpose. The last minute cramming, the late night, caffeine-induced evenings, and the fear that somehow this test for which you are cramming is the end-all, be-all of your higher ed experience is not what a professional runner would do. It doesn’t win races.
Let’s go back to what professional 400 meter runners do at the end in the final 100 meters:
Relax your face
Remain aware of what tension you may be carrying in your face as well as how what nonverbal body language this time of year may be communicating to those close to you. Take some time to consciously unfurrow your brow and to smile at someone.
Relax your hands
We counterintuitively fill up our most stressful moments with that which does not serve us for continued energy. Grabbing a cigarette, getting drunk, or downing Five Hour Energies and Monster drinks. Be cognizant of what your hands seek to hold on to during this time of stress. Will it serve you or stymie you?
Relax your shoulders
In a 400 meter race, relaxing your shoulders releases tension so the arms can pump at full range. In the academic home stretch, relaxing your shoulders is about self-confidence. You are blessed to be at an institute of higher education, you have put the work in to attend class (I hope), and you still have time to pull together the items you need to ensure you can review and prepare over several weeks rather than several days. Relax those shoulders. Notice how that creates room for you to tilt back your head, look at the sky for a moment, and breathe in the scents of the season.
Drive knees and arms forward
The focus here is forward. Knees and arms forward signifies that little excess energy is wasted in the final moments of the race. Distractions and procrastination are your enemy this time of year and the place where excess energy is wasted. Take time now to consider what meaningful systems of breaks, personal rewards, and time for camaraderie you will take now so that your drive remains forward.
Control your breathing
The more controlled our breathing, the more relaxed our body. Quarter mile runners, in the final 100m, are forcefully exhaling, but in a controlled fashion. We can all use this technique. Take several moments each day to forcefully exhale several times. Return to your normal breathing, and see how that has affected your rhythm. Our mind can’t focus if it’s constantly in a stressed state. Take time to control your breath and assist your cognition.
Focus on the line
Don’t lose your sense of purpose. Remind yourself why you chose higher education, why you chose your given field, why this exam or paper is important but not so important that it will shatter your sense of self or your continued purpose should you come up short. Pros focus on the line even if they can see bodies ahead of them. The relaxation and sense of purpose does not change.
Best of luck to all our Guyhood readers as the semester concludes! Finish strong!
Image credit: The Royal Canadian Legion/flickr