I’m not usually a big fan of Hollywood style ‘man and his best friend’ stories but I did enjoy reading about Aussie ultra-marathon runner, Dion Leonard and his 3 tips to boost your mental toughness.
These were accumulated from his triumph over a challenging youth that included a period of homelessness in his early teens, together with an amazing emotional journey last year when he was competing in a gruelling 155 mile race across the Gobi Desert in 2016. He was joined unexpectedly by a little stray dog who kept Dion company, running step for step with him, for nearly 80 miles across the the treacherous Tian Shan Mountains in China.
As Dion witnessed the incredible determination of this small animal that he named Gobi, he felt something change within himself. In the past he had always focused on winning and being the best, but his goal now was simply to make sure that his new friend was safe, nourished and hydrated. The twist was that Dion lost Gobi and returned to his home in Scotland alone.
However determined to find her he went back to China and they were eventually reunited, giving rise to a book ‘Finding Gobi’ published in Australia this month by Harper Collins.
COURTSEY OF CNBC.COM HERE ARE LEONARD’S THREE TIPS TO BOOST YOUR MENTAL TOUGHNESS
1. Harness what motivates you
Given his uplifting story, it may come as a surprise that Leonard finds the inspiration to persevere by focusing on drakness rather than light. “Horrible things drive me,” he says. “I had a tough, volatile childhood, and I think of all the awful things that people have done to me or said to me. It doesn’t drive me to think about fun-loving ideas or high-fiving everyone.” This kind of self-awareness is useful when overcoming challenges. Whether you’re running a race or vying for a promotion, understanding what motivates you and harnessing it can be a crucial first step.
2. Set achievable goals
When Leonard ran his first ultra-marathon, he doubted he would even be able to finish, but he managed to persevere by breaking the daunting 155-mile Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon into shorter daily challenges.
“I thought, ‘There’s no way I’m going to be able to do this race,’” he says.
Leonard even admits that he was prepared to quit entirely. “If there had been any opportunity with a hotel with a pool and a bar that I spotted at any point, I would have been a dolphin and said ‘See ya at the finish line,’” he jokes.
In order to approach the daunting task, he took the week-long race one day at a time.
“I thought, ‘Well, I’m here, this is really going to suck, and I’m just going to run this as quickly as I can to get to the finish line to make it as enjoyable as possible.’”
He ended up coming in sixth, ahead of many professional runners.
By breaking big challenges into smaller goals you can see your progress and stay motivated over a longer period without burning out.
3. Surround yourself with those who will support you
Because Leonard lacked a stable home life as a child, he knows the importance of surrounding himself with people who will support him and hold him accountable. At the age of 14, Leonard left home for his own well-being. “I was forced out due to a volatile relationship at home. I couldn’t live in that situation anymore, and it was harmful to me. It was depressing, it was sad and it was not the life that I wanted to lead” he says.
“I didn’t have a father figure and my mother was suffering from a tough time herself. Hence the relationship with her, and I broke down completely – but sport was my way out.” Leonard relied on sports as a support system. He played hockey and cricket competitively and found a sense of family. “It gave me the feeling of teamwork and the feeling of being important. People needed me. It was the first time I had ever had that feeling in my life.”
Leonard has found this to be just as important in his adult life, and praises his wife for her constant encouragement. “My wife telling me to push through is a big part of what I do, and making her proud makes me feel very happy as well.”
But perhaps his most famous supporter is Gobi, the pup. “Without her support and dedication, just being there for me, that race would never have been possible.”