How To Use Running To Build Self-Confidence

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I’ll be honest with you: running has saved my life.

Could an ordinary, average introvert turn his life upside down and start living an adventurous, passionate and fulfilling life?⁠

Five years ago I’ve decided to change my life. What many of us go through in 2020 and 2021 happened to me in 2016 and 2017.⁠

From the outside, I had nothing to complain about: I had a family, a house, a garden, a nice car, and I went on holidays regularly. But deep down I was dissatisfied. I was driving in the wrong direction, too fast and too hard. And it got me to crash, hitting the ground with a thud. 

By December 2015, I was deeply depressed. A series of life failures and traumatic experiences had me trapped by fear, low self-esteem, doubt, loss of direction, stress and frustration. My thoughts convince me that everyone I knew was smarter and better than me. I felt like I don’t know what I was doing anymore. I felt helpless.

At the beginning of 2018, I started running 5-6 times a week. What started as a struggle to improve my mental health quickly becomes a passionate and purposeful life of service to others.⁠

Sweat, tears, and doubts.

In 2019 and 2020, I have conducted two ultra-endurance challenges in 8 countries and over 25 small and large islands:⁠

  • execution of 5 million steps in 101 days, and⁠
  • running 7,000 miles through Asia⁠

I created a system and coaching program to use running to break the habit of self-doubt and build confidence in sports, business, relationships and careers. Coached thousands of students at universities, conducted dozens of live and virtual workshops for businesses. 

I’m working with many universities and helping their students reach their full potential. My work has been featured in international magazines such as Red Bull.⁠ 

I also became an ambassador for the Wave Trust charity organisation. And I offer a wide range of seminars, courses, workshops and keynote speeches to charities and nonprofits in the United Kingdom, Europe and Asia to support people who experienced childhood traumas and the organizations that help them.

I would lie if I said all of it come easy to me. It was lots of efforts, sweat, tears, doubts, many sleepless nights and heavy mentally, physically and spiritually days. Lot’s of mistakes and failures. But eventually running becomes my passion, and coaching becomes my life purpose. And it all started to make sense.

Now my dreams and goals are bigger than ever before. I train for my next ultra-endurance challenge to pass once again thousands of miles on my feet. But it all started with the decision to take the first few steps. 

So whatever you are going through in your life right now. Trust me, it’s temporary. Put on your shoes, set goals, dream big and go for a run. Do it today, do it tomorrow, do it the day after tomorrow, and never stop believing in yourself.

Here is a touch of the lessons I learned on the way. Get a coffee and some snacks as this article contains nearly 5,000 words of running wisdom.

Research on running and stress.

Running can control stress levels and increase the body’s ability to cope with existing mental stress. Research shows that running is an extremely effective and immediate stress-reducing activity. 

It clears the mind, stimulates the secretion of “happy” hormones, increases energy levels and improves the condition, as well as helps to maintain a healthy weight and body composition.

Research on running and stress shows that staying active during work breaks, family emergencies, relationship problems, etc. will help us experience stressors less severely and survive the situation in better physical and mental health.

As runners, we are better equipped to survive tough times. Even so, on any stressful day, no matter how hard it is, we should still go out to run. 

Take time to run when you know it’s going to be a stressful day. My best advice is to plan workouts because when we are stressed it is really hard to feel like we have the time or energy to run.

It will get easier.

Now, after running regularly and using mindfulness for the fourth year in a row, it’s easy for me to relieve tension. But there was a time in my life when mental stress paralyzed me. My productive hours were limited to a few hours in the morning before the overwhelm took over my mind and body.

Running also increases levels of norepinephrine, a chemical that helps moderate the brain’s response to stress. 

Running outdoors helps our body produce vitamin D, a nutrient that can reduce the likelihood of developing symptoms of depression.

The chemicals that are released during and after running can help people with anxiety feel calmer. Moving our body is a healthy way to deal with difficult times.

If we don’t feel motivated, running is the solution. Research shows that people who regularly spend time exercising are much more productive and have more energy.

Running builds mental toughness.

Our ego is the part of us that often speaks first and loudest. We all have these negative thoughts that pop up in our mind, often for no reason at all.

One moment we worry about the future and what will happen if we fail, and the next our mind throws the past in our face to prove that we failed before, so we will fail now.

The great news is that if we will spend some time dealing with this little monster as we run, we can break the mental blocks that are holding us back and overcome them by building mental toughness.

As runners, we know that there is no magic wand, there is just work. Showing up day after day to train our body and mind to run farther, faster, or longer.

When we stop holding back, we can achieve even more than we dreamed of.

RELATED: How To Turn Your Procrastination Into Your Success

Nothing was as planned.

I imagine running across Asia as the time when my dream will come true. I will run from one beautiful place to another, enjoy the weather, meet many people, interact with the local culture, try their food, and take tons of photos and videos.

But for the first 2-3 weeks, nothing was as planned. 

My backpack became extremely heavy after running the first miles. There was a thunderstorm in Vietnam for over a week. After 5 days, the streets turned into rivers. I wasn’t running, I was just walking knee-deep in the water. There was no one outside, except for the crazy Polish men trying to run. 

All shops and restaurants were closed. My phone turned not to be waterproof and my laptop was damaged. I couldn’t find any food and some days I was running for hours in extreme hunger. I have run through not very nice roads and small villages and hardly anyone speaks English. It was terrible.

Respond instead of reacting.

I remember when I was sitting on the side of the road on a stone; it was heavy rain, a large truck splashed me with dirty water from the street. And I asked myself: how the hell, I’ll be able to run the remaining 6,500 miles?

I took a waterproof camera out of my backpack and started recording the journey as it is. No longer looking at all the beautiful things that should happen to me. I have accepted that I cannot control most of it, but I can choose how I react to it.

After three days off, the storm passed. And a few days later, I finally made it to the ocean coast. 

Hard work always pays off. Sooner or later, but it always does.

Running and automatic writing.

One of the biggest struggles in my life was not being able to properly recognize and express my feelings. Now it’s as easy as making my morning coffee, but it took me almost three years to break it through.

After returning from my first spiritual trip to Thailand in February 2016 and starting to focus on building a new, passionate and purposeful lifestyle, I noticed heaving difficulty expressing what was deep within me.

I knew in general what I wanted, but couldn’t gather my thoughts to unpack it, explain and write it down. Take it out, turn it into words, and pass it to others.

Since then, I have written down 29 notebooks, dozens of articles, two eBooks, I became an Ambassador for Wave Trust charity, I speak at universities and for businesses, and I write my first hardcopy book. 

All of this thanks to running with one notebook always in my backpack. Stopping at random places, at different times of the day, and jotting down my thoughts without thinking about them. 

Then watching them, returning to the same places after a few weeks, rewriting my thoughts and observing what has changed. Over time, that has led me to easily understanding what I feel and recognizing my deepest desires.

Now, I teach these techniques during my university coaching programs, corporate training and online courses. It’s simpler than you can imagine, but hard to break to make it a daily habit.

Trust the process.

One of the hardest parts of running is that it can often be painful and impossible to move on in the beginning. However, pushing the boundaries requires patience as results don’t appear overnight. 

It’s slow progress, and you have to trust that the painful work you’ve put in, will pay off eventually. All you have to do is work to be a tad stronger than you were yesterday. 

Your first 5k may seem impossible, but over time it will be as easy and enjoyable as going to a diner with your best friend.

At some point, you will look back and remember when your now easy training was once a struggle, and it will be one of the most rewarding days of your life.

It took me 101 days to complete the 5 Million Steps challenge and during that time I was extremely active every day. Running, cycling, swimming and cross-fitness training filled the day, up to 14 hours at the end of the month when I wanted to push more steps and get better results.

RELATED: Mindful Running: Key Benefits And Tips To Get You Started Today

Running helps build self-belief.

Nobody believed it would be possible, even I had doubts if my knees would withstand such intense training. 

I started training for this challenge 14 months early and started from scratch. Until then, I was running 2-4 times a week for several kilometres just to clear my mind of everyday problems. And a few times I ended up with painful knee injuries, twice I went to the hospital and spent a few weeks recovering. 

But with the right training plan, I manage to build strength for my knees and back. Since March 2018, when I focused on building joint strength, I don’t even know my knees exist. 

Proper training allowed me to overcome two huge challenges (5 million steps and 7,000 miles across Asia) in just 15.5 months and with only a 3-week break between.

Believing in yourself and your abilities is one of the hardest parts of starting as a runner. Human nature tends to demean our self-belief and make us feels that we are not as good as other people. 

The consequence of this negative self-perception is that we decrease our self-confidence.

Steadfast self-belief doesn’t happen overnight. To build it, start with mini-goals. Reward yourself daily for your achievements and significantly increase the size of your goals. Work hard to achieve your goals but don’t overload your expectations. 

Running can significantly increase our self-esteem.

Self-esteem is multifaceted and involves our global judgement of ourselves: physical, mental, social, emotional, etc.

Most of us have experienced low self-esteem at one point or another in our lives. 

Signs of low self-esteem include negative self-talk, the way we talk to ourselves in our mind, comparing ourselves to others, and focusing on the negatives or mistakes in our lives and ignoring the positives and accomplishments.

Research has shown time and again that running can significantly increase our self-esteem. There are many mechanisms by which running increases our evaluations of our self. 

First, in the short-term, running enhances our mood and puts our mind in a more positive state. 

Second, in the long-term, running makes us feel good about our physical self – our abilities and physique. 

Last, and in both the short and long term, running provides us with a sense of accomplishment that boosts our confidence.

Achieving ambitious goals affects the level of happiness.

Whether you are running a kilometre or training for a marathon, a Columbia University study found that setting and reaching ambitious goals affects your happiness levels and therefore increases your confidence.

Thanks to my tremendous challenges, my confidence has exploded to incredible dimensions. But in early 2018, I started by running 5km a day and then picked it up to even 130km in one day at the end of 2019.

Be patient and persistent, it won’t happen overnight. Developing self-confidence takes time and sweat, but it is well worth the effort. 

Running builds empathy, compassion and kindness.

I have always tried to stay as close to the ocean coast as possible while running 7,000 miles through Asia. Sometimes I was adding tens of miles a week just because I wanted to enjoy the view. Plus I couldn’t help but jump into saltwater after eight hours of running in the tropical sun

Running through small villages in Asia allowed me to see local life as much as I couldn’t see simply travelling. Interact with the people, see them in their daily activities.

Asians are extremely friendly and willing to help, no matter where I was.

The most traumatic experience I have had in the capital of the Philippines, Manila, on the island of Luzon. That was while running the 5 million steps challenge. 

The difference between poor and rich people was dramatic. On the one hand, huge skyscrapers and shops with the world’s best brands, and around the corner people sleeping in cardboard boxes, begging for money and food, naked kids running down the street. 

Armed security guards in every restaurant and grocery store. Even in McDonald’s, I have always seen 2-3 guards with long guns.

Every time I stopped running for a snack or drink, within seconds, a group of kids appeared around me asking for the crackers or energy drinks I had with me. At first, I felt good to give it to them, but it quickly began to overwhelm me when I realized that for many of them it was the only snack they had for weeks, maybe even months.

I was shocked at what I saw there. That’s not what we think of the Philippines when we go on holiday there and take beautiful photos on the beach for social media.

Runner’s high comes from sweat.

Don’t get confused with that smiling face on most of my pictures. Real confidence doesn’t come from trendy photos on social media. 

This photo is from Cebu Island in the Philippines as I was doing the 5 million steps challenge. I finished running that day almost midnight, resulting in 107,000 steps and over 2 million steps in a whole month. 

Mentally and spiritually, I was in heaven, but I remember holding the railing with both hands when returning to my room on the first floor. The next morning I was the winner. I will never forget that feeling of glory.

I also remember when I started my training, and I did the first 10,000 steps and took a deep breath, inhaling my first running success. Then, I will never say that I will ever be able to do 2 million steps a month.

Passion is a higher level of love.

One of the most important lessons you can learn as a human being and an athlete is how to fall in love with running and make it your passion.

Often people ask me how I dealt with time and loneliness, running alone for almost 1,5 year. The answer is very simple. When you run with passion, you don’t feel time or loneliness. 

Same as with love. When you feel it, time flies, you don’t have to talk to your partner, you can sit together for hours in silence.

The passion you bring to your runs also carries over to the rest of your life, creating a more fulfilling, exciting existence. When you run with passion, you live your life more fully, appreciating all this beautiful, painful and wonderful journey that we call life.

I run to laugh, smile, breathe and enjoy every minute – no matter how hard the day is. During my ultra-endurance challenges, I was running in a different place every day. I never knew what I would see when I got there.

Research shows that new experiences increase our happiness levels and also slow downtime.

Adventuring and practising spontaneity.

We all can be more adventurous in our ways. All we need to do is have the courage to break the mould. Step out of our comfort zone because eventually, that zone will not let us grow.⁠

I took this picture while running the 5 Million Steps challenge in 2019 in Philippinian island – Cebu. That was one of the most beautiful waterfalls I ever saw. Not because it was a breathtaking view, but because of a breathtaking experience. 

It was somewhere in the jungle, not much visited by tourists. I met a group of local Philippinian boys who was earning money by taking you to this place. And showing how to enjoy fearless life in their own way.

With their assistance, I climbed without protective equipment to the top of the 15-meter high waterfall and jumped several times from different highs. Then back down through the jungle barefoot, trying not to step on snakes. ⁠

Adventuring, practising spontaneity and embracing changes will make us realize how strong we are. ⁠

There are many moments in our life where we don’t know how strong we are unless we are confronted by an inevitable situation. ⁠

The same thing also happens when we choose to become adventurous person. That’s when we realize that we have hidden strengths; that we can do that thing we believed we wouldn’t be able to.⁠

Eventually, we will realize that all these undertakings are some sort of preparation for something bigger in our life.⁠

Being adventurous may be an ambitious and bold statement. There are many ways to be adventurous, and we have to choose which one suits our personality and goals. ⁠

No matter what your adventure is, know that it will always be worth your while.

Running helps create a sense of self-love.

Self-love is our ability to love and respect ourselves. It is fundamentally related to our mental and emotional state. Our self-esteem, self-confidence, self-worth; all these things are intertwined to create a sense of self-love.⁠

When life is great and fulfilling, it is easy to love ourselves. If bad things happen, others treat us negatively – depression and negative emotions will be a challenge. But self-love has nothing to do with what other people think of us. That is our perception of ourselves, and that can be changed easily.⁠

Developing self-love is associated with a positive shaping of our image. ⁠

We have to prove to ourselves how great we are. Each time we choose our highest values, each time we choose to do what we believe in, each time we choose to go for that run – we prove to ourselves that we are worth our love. 

But we have to acknowledge it, say it to ourselves, make a note of it. Frame it and stick it into our mind and heart.⁠

I literally say it to myself laud:⁠

“That was great Tom”⁠

“Great effort, next time you will manage Tom”⁠

“This was awesome, well done Tom”⁠

I write it down in my notebook, with big fat letters, framing a few times around.⁠

Practising self-love is easier than we may think. We just have to do it.⁠

Running teaches responsibility.

Sigmund Freud said, “Most people don’t want freedom because freedom comes with responsibility, and most people fear responsibility.”

It’s easy to sit on the comfy sofa in front of the TV and watch Netflix for hours. And there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as we feel good about it and choose to live that way. 

But if we feel upset, unhappy, or depressed about what kind of life we ​​have, we are simply playing the victim game. Blaming friends, politicians, the economy, the weather, clients, or spouse for what is happening to us.

It’s hard as hell to take responsibility for everything that happens in our lives. I will not lie to you. Expect many difficult days, sweat and even tears. But…

Once we take full control of our lives and understand that no one is responsible for what happens to us; not our boss or partner, not our customers or the economy, or rainy or sunny days. When we accept that our happiness depends only on what we create in ourselves – our life will begin to change.

Smiles are getting more frequent and becoming normal. The feeling of anxiety never completely disappears, but we respond to it within minutes and take control of it. 

Instead of playing the victim of our circumstances, we become the creators of our destiny.

It doesn’t matter what happens in our lives, what matters is our attitude and response to this situation. We have the power to change anything we don’t like about our lives.

What the hell am I waiting for?

I took this photo in Vietnam, the day before I started running 7,000 miles through Asia. And the day before this, I announced on social media that I would start running in three weeks. 

I woke up that morning and asked myself: what the hell am I waiting for? What if nothing will change in three weeks?

I go for a run, I’ve made my decision. I took the first bus to Hanoi and the next morning I was on my way to completing my challenge. 

If I didn’t go with impulse and listen to my gut that morning, I probably would never have started it. Because for the next four months, nothing changed in my life what I was waiting for, except that I was in control of my circumstances and my happiness.

Mind training to increase dopamine levels.

Training my mind to increase the dopamine levels every 15 minutes helped mi running 7,000 miles with a smiling face. Focusing on 30 minutes sequence, instead of a destination caused achieving small success every 15 minutes when I was already halfway through the set goal.

I didn’t wait for success after covering the entire distance. Every 15 minutes I had mini successes. Every quarter of an hour brought me closer to the desired result.

Change through the chaos.

We cannot succeed without changing our lives, we must be willing to do things that others would not do. 

Decide, choose and do what needs to be done, even if we feel we don’t want to. Success is on the other side of our fear.

There is no other way to change than through chaos. We need to feel uncomfortable and that should scare us a bit. 

Over time it will turn into: “I’m still scared but feel excited”… and then: “This is awsome, why I didn’t do it sooner.”

Yes. it will overwhelm us, but it’s temporary and it will pass. 

To make big life changes, we need to start with small steps. If you don’t know where to start, begin with the small things in your daily life. Tea instead of coffee, try a new recipe for lunch or dinner. Send a message to a stranger on social media. That’s how I started over five years ago.

Smile training.

I remember pushing myself to be more open to people when training for my challenges in London. I decided to say good morning and smile to every person I meet on my way during my morning run. 

The first couple of days was weird, but later I did love my morning runs. It boosted my mood for the rest of the day. Some people I was meeting regularly on my way and they were waving to me before I noticed them.

The secret to making big life changes is changing little things, setting micro-goals, and taking mini-steps. Something that will give us immediate results and can boost our confidence and self-esteem.

Step by step. It takes longer, but we gain a lot of experience, we learn to react to many different situations, and it is more likely to last forever. 

Focus on the journey, not the destination.

Courage to believe in yourself.

I took this photo while running through the jungle on a breathtaking Cambodian island Koh Rong Samloen while running 7,000 miles through Asia. 

I’ve rested there for three days, waiting for my 60-day visa to be confirmed before I could start running through Thailand.

At that time, I already passed all of Vietnam and most of Cambodia. It was the fourth month of running and I knew that the most difficult time to adapt to the extremely active days is behind me. 

I knew that from now on, nothing would stop me from running the full distance. I felt strong, independent and confident, plus my courage and belief in myself elevated up to heaven.

There is only one thing that I enjoy the same much as running, that’s teaching about the benefits of running, and how to use it for personal development

Click on the picture below to Sign Up Now for a FREE COURSE: “Learn How To Practice MINDFUL RUNNING On Your Daily Runs.”

About Post Author

Tomasz Drybala

Tomasz Drybala is a Mindful Running Teacher, Explorer and Philanthropist. His up to date ultra-running challenges consist of five million steps in 101 days and running 7,000 miles unsupported through Asia. Tom's corporate and university coaching programmes and workshops have attracted thousands of people and gained great feedback from professors, university chancellors, students and the corporate world. Through his ambassadorship for the charity Wave Trust in the years 2020 to 2024, Tom collaborates with UNICEF, the World Health Organization, schools, colleges, universities and various local and national governments. He concentrates on bringing together towns, cities and counties that are dedicated to preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences and setting up Trauma-Informed Communities. His ultra-endurance challenges and the practice of mindful running are currently the subjects of scientific research by the University of Westminster. Tom works with people from all walks of life to help them break the habit of self-doubt, build resilience and confidence, and create the lifestyle they want and deserve.
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