“Don’t follow the feeling, follow the plan.”

Dr. Barry Rovner

A few weeks ago NPR broadcast a story about elderly people suffering from age-related macular degeneration, a condition that impairs the ability to see fine detail. Reading, driving, watching television, and cooking may become impossible. Worse, those with this condition “can’t recognize faces or ‘read’ someone’s facial expression.” As a result, many become withdrawn from social life, and sink into deep depression.

It was an interesting story, but the final thought from Dr. Barry Rovner, a geriatric psychiatrist who studies coping mechanisms for macular degeneration-related depression, is what keeps churning through my mind:

“When they’re thinking over and over about how life is not right for them, how they can’t do this, I can’t do that, to catch themselves, to be aware of that mental state and to say to stop it, get up now, do something – don’t follow the feeling, follow the plan.”

The “plan” that Dr. Rovner refers to is behavior activation, a form of psychological therapy that gives patients techniques for building on the functional vision that they do have. But his advice — “Don’t follow the feeling, follow the plan” — has me thinking about the things that we can do to help revive our motivation. The sentence reads like a mantra, and I’ve been coming back to it as I gather the mental, emotional, physical, and practical tools I’ll need to dig into fall marathon training. And I’m keeping it in my back pocket for those challenging runs and race moments. But “Don’t follow the feeling…” has been ringing in my head for other aspirations too — work, family, staying relaxed and positive.

Early evening in Humbolt Redwoods State Park

Early evening in Humbolt Redwoods State Park

I recently returned from a mini-camping trip up north, and as a result this week hasn’t been much about a feeling or a plan. I knew that this vacation would abut Sunday’s Santa Rosa race (half), and somewhat expected my enthusiasm to wane a bit, and in fact I almost deferred completely. As for a plan? I suppose I might take it easy, slipping into fall after a summer busy with work and mental gymnastics. Push it a little bit, not too hard, mirroring the default of recent training. I’m feeling neutral — not extravagantly confident. From far away, an ambitious, fearless voice whispers in my ear, but we’ll see how things pan out on race morning. Free from expectations, I tell myself that not much could happen to break my heart, with the exception of a DNF, although I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t be a little disappointed to cross the line on the other side of 2 hours. Even with my lackadaisical training should that be doable at this point? But, listen, if I leave with my medal and my DeLoach wine and another race on the books that ought to be enough.


Finishing my last long training run.

Either way, if I want to hit my goals for Rock & Roll San Jose and CIM, there’s work to be done. I feel strong and positive but have moments of doubt. So now it’s just about following the plan.


4 thoughts on ““Don’t follow the feeling, follow the plan.”

  1. At first I wasn’t on board with the quote when I thought that I always like to follow my instincts. But then you brought it back to something tangible like marathon training, and yes, sticking to the plan is key, even when you aren’t feeling it. Nice post!

    • You bring up a good point — because in reality tuning into our feelings is critical. Injury and burnout are classic results of stubbornly adhering to a system that doesn’t work or needs adjusting (like an added rest day). Lately, however, I’m personally struggling with things like getting my ass out of bed at kill-me-o-clock to do an 8 mile run on a weekday before work. For quieting the excuses and easing mental anguish that can come with hard training and racing, I find the mantra works for me, so far! But at the end of the body/mind definitely need to keep in good balance. Thanks for the comment, Scott!

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