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At the start of 2014, I couldn’t run a mile. That year, I began to test theories about change and growth. I wanted to know if simple effort and consistent practice are enough to truly improve our skills and abilities.
Turns out, they are. At the end of 2014, I ran my first official 5K race. By the end of 2015, I had run 20 half-marathons. Today, I’ve run over 200 half marathons and 11 full marathons, totaling 12,000 miles. I once “hated” the idea of running. Now, it’s my greatest love in life. The biggest surprise I’ve had is running hasn’t just transformed me physically — it’s transformed me mentally, too. Here’s what it’s taught me:
1. Sometimes, life is hard — but we can do hard things
Running, especially in the beginning, was incredibly difficult for me. I’d never practiced it. Even jogging a few blocks left me out of breath and gasping for air. As I worked to improve as a runner, I realized that sometimes life is hard. It’s supposed to be that way. When we ditch our affinity for ease and comfort and instead embrace struggle and challenge, we open ourselves up to a whole new universe of possibilities. Instead of saying, “I can’t do that. That sounds hard,” we can lean in. As we do, several things happen.
First, things we once deemed hard become easier. Our skills and strength aren’t fixed quantities — they can grow and expand. We improve, which allows us to handle more complicated scenarios and solve more complex equations. Second, we stop expecting things to be easy. When we don’t expect things to be easy, we grow comfortable with some adversity and pain. That’s when we find out that we can actually withstand adversity and push through. Consistent, daily effort and practice is the catalyst that ignites this process. In the beginning, you may not see massive changes, but you have to trust that it’s working.
2. Our beliefs are the limiting reagent in the chemistry of our minds
When we want to do something, it’s imperative that we believe we actually can. Our brain likes to be right, so it constantly looks for ways to validate or prove its beliefs. What we sometimes forget, however, is that we get to decide what we believe — and we can update our beliefs at any time.
When I began running, I often believed that I simply couldn’t run any farther or take another step. “You’ve gone far enough, it’s time to stop,” my brain would shout at me. Then, I learned how to talk back to my brain. “Let’s just get to the red light,” I’d negotiate. Then, “How about just one more mile?” I’ve found that our bodies will do whatever our brains tell us to do. Often, we can accomplish much more than we think we can. We can keep going long after we think we can’t.
As humans, many fall prey to this daily. We believe that reaching a compromise or agreement is impossible. So, it is. We believe a problem is unsolvable. So, it is. But almost always, if we believe there’s a way through and we remain determined to find it, we will. Here’s a tip: Taking a break from a problem and coming back to it later can be a remarkable tool. Just like our muscles, our brains sometimes need time to rest and rejuvenate. When you feel you can’t do anymore, come back after you’ve allowed your brain or body time to breathe. It’s amazing how differently you’ll view things after a break. This process refreshes stamina and creativity.
3. Tools and resources are always available to help us; don’t go it alone
With regards to literally everything in life — our relationships, our professional pursuits, our health and fitness goals — there is a plethora of research, books and mentors there to guide us. There is always someone who has already done what we want to do. Find these people, make friends with them and directly ask them for advice and mentorship. Observe them closely; learn from their examples.
So often, we are afraid to ask for help for fear of looking foolish or being viewed as incompetent. We sometimes feel that we should do it all alone. This is a mistake. Reach out and leverage the people who have traveled in your shoes before. We, as humans, are not meant to function completely independently. In fact, our mere survival depends on our cooperation and partnerships with one another. With regard to my running, podiatrists have advised me on my feet and my shoes, friends have shared the financial burden of housing me during races and apps have provided me with music and tracking of my results. Without this, much of my running wouldn’t have been sustainable.
4. Success is not a straight line; don’t expect every day to be amazing
With regard to any problem we want to solve or any competency we want to develop, it can be tempting to think that every day should be better than the last. We sometimes think that once we’ve set a goal, started down a path and made headway, it should be nothing but smooth sailing.
That thinking can cripple us. This is not how success works. There will be days when we lack the motivation to press forward. There will be disruption in our business. Unfavorable economic environments and new competitors in our marketplace can send us into a tailspin. Pouring rain can show up on the day we planned for our long run or you might twist an ankle on race day. These things happen. We sometimes take a step forward to only take two steps back. There are moments we might regress. What we do in these moments will define the trajectory of our lives. When we anticipate these moments, we handle them better than if we deny or ignore their existence. One of the best ways to avoid falling into this trap is to constantly remember our why and to stay passionate about and committed to not just the end results, but the journey.
Without these four strategies, I would have failed as a runner, but also as a leader, a coach, an author, a friend and a partner. All these areas have thrown me challenges. Before becoming a runner, I didn’t want to struggle in life. When things got tough, I was more prone to quit or give up. Running has taught me that struggle simply means we’re growing. It’s taught me that no matter what’s happening around me, I always get to choose my response. Now, I use that in every area of my life, which has changed literally everything — maybe it can change yours, too.