I did it! On Sunday, Feb. 26, at the age of 49 (and a half!), I finished the Screenland USA 5K—a event celebrating the Centennial Anniversary of my new hometown, Culver City, CA—and when I did, I also finished my first athletic event ever of any kind (outside of P.E. and the annual “Field Day” torture that came with it.)
Mostly the race itself was pretty fun and I’m kinda hooked on the idea of doing another one before I fall back out of shape, but in the meantime I want to take full advantage of my first opportunity to use a sports metaphor for life.
So, without further ado, here are my 5 “Keep-Moving-Towards-a-Life-You-Love” Tips:
When You’re New to Something, the First Mile Can Be the Hardest.
When I first started running as an adult a couple summers ago, my only goal was to be able to run a mile without stopping. Now that I can run 3 miles pretty consistently I’ve noticed that I generally still feel terrible for that first mile.
My experience with running seems to me to mirror a lot of new starts in life. Often it’s the getting started part that’s the hardest, and once you get “in the groove” it’s not so bad. The problem is that often we quit before we get to experience the still-challenging-but-not-so-excruciatingly-hard part that’s just beyond the end of that metaphorical first mile.
Tip #1: When the path to your best life is tough, change your thoughts.
When you’re trying to establish a new habit or start a new project that you’re pretty sure is a path towards a life you’ll love and it’s also seriously HARD, rather than buying into thoughts such as, “This is too hard. I’m too old/young. I’m never going to make it!” assume that you’re in the “first mile” and it will get better down the road. Approach the challenge with curiosity and some hope instead of fear and doom. Make your new mantra, “It’s just the first mile. It’s just the first mile. It will get better if I just keep going.”
Tip #2: Set up incentives—to help you to keep going just a bit farther.
One of my favorite tools for this practice is a timer. When you think you can’t go any farther on a project (or can’t possibly start because you’retoo tired/angry/hungry/short etc.) take a tip I learned from Anna Kunnecke (and the folks who recommend breaking down tasks into Pomodoros) and set a timer — for 5 minutes, 2 minutes, 25 minutes. Whatever time your most rebellious or depressed self can agree to. You just might find that your timer gets you past your “first mile” and (surprise!) you feel able to keep going just a bit farther.
A Little Step-Back Might Just Be the Way You Move Forward
I run on city streets, so I often get stopped by a red light where I jog in place until the light changes. I noticed the other day that EVERY TIME the light changes I take a step backwards before I go forwards. Every time. I have no idea why. It’s as if I’m afraid of that little guy that shows up to let me know I can cross the street!
Now if I were in a competitive race this crosswalk step-back would be a problem, but I’m not. My goal is to keep moving so I get stronger, so my little back step is really no big deal. So, I’ve decided to just notice and accept this amusing little habit and not worry about it.
My crosswalk step-backs made me think of how often in life our growth forward involves some backwards stepping. Parents and teachers know that sometimes children appear to regress a bit (return to old behaviors like thumb sucking or needing a diaper, for example) when they are about to take a big leap forward in some area of development. But when we do it ourselves, when we go a bit backwards (skip a work out, yell at our kids, leave grading (or writing) until the last minute and have to stay up late AGAIN) we tend to think that there’s something wrong with us, or that all our forward movement is now null and void. Then, instead of managing to move forward, we can waste a lot of energy focusing on that one little step back. This leads me to:
Tip #3: When you feel as if you’re going backwards, try compassionate curiosity.
When you’ve been making good progress on some change that’s important to your best life — maybe planning ahead, or eating better, working out, or counting to 10 before you yell at your kids — and you take what seems like a backwards step, try out an attitude of compassionate curiosity, or even amusement, instead of condemnation and doom. Then see if you can figure out what’s behind your set back. Were you overtired? Do you need more support. Is it just a little quirk you have that actually works out just fine for you, if you don’t waste to much energy on it? Make the change needed, if there is one, and get back to moving forward. If it helps, picture me at a stoplight, doing a little step back, and then moving ahead again.
Sometimes Picking Up Your Feet Isn’t Much Harder Than Barely Shuffling Along
There were times when I was out running and I knew someone was behind me, that I would start to pick up my feet and step a bit more lightly and quickly, as if I was compelled to look like “a runner” because this person might be watching me. The funny thing is, often I found that this lighter, faster pace didn’t feel that much harder than the heavy-footed shuffling I’d been doing a few minutes prior. Faking “this is easy for me because I am a runner” showed me that I actually had it in me to be a runner. In some way I already was one; I just wasn’t used to it yet.
Tip #4: When You’re Creating a New You, Fake it ‘til you Make It.
I know, this one’s not very original, but it can actually work! When you’re in a place of growth or transition, it’s going to take a little while for it to feel comfortable being the new you, but sometime acting like you’re already there, can make it so. In general, I encourage authenticity, so I’m not suggesting that you pretend you’re someone you’re not, but often what is TRUE is that you have more power and energy in you than you realized and if you ACT as if you are already whoever it is that you want to be—a great runner, a confident speaker, a patient parent, an organized teacher, a belly dancer—you might just find that you’re a lot closer to being one than you thought you were. (Admittedly there are other times really all you can do is shuffle – if this is one of those times, just keep shuffling – or better yet, take a nap!)
Last, but not least, life is best lived well-hydrated.
I believe this adage applies to most of life – except perhaps when you’re in the middle of a dangerous situation where there’s no safe place for you to pee (if you need a frame of reference for this one check out Tina Fey in Whiskey, Tango, Fox Trot). Anyway, running forced me to pay more attention to staying hydrated all the time, because downing a couple bottles of water right before my run could easily lead to a run cut short by the need for a bathroom break, and running not fully hydrated made me sick to my stomach.
The idea of staying hydrated applies literally to the body, of course—and since we need our bodies to do anything we want to do in this world, giving them what they need to keep going a pretty big deal.
But I want to suggest to you that your spiritual self needs hydration too. For me, that means time for meditation and journaling, connecting with like-minded friends, saying no to a lot of “good” activities to leave some open spaces in my schedule, and lately also more body-focused activities like yoga, and massage, that help me calm my overactive brain. For you, soul/spirit hydration might mean going to a worship service at your church or mosque, playing the piano, or swimming. Maybe you don’t know what is spiritually hydrating for you – in that case you’ll need to start with some observation and experimentation.
So, Tip # 5 is STAY HYDRATED.
Drink lots of water to hydrate your body and figure out how you can get what you need to hydrate your soul. If you’re a busy teacher, student, or mom, you probably think you don’t have time for these activities, but I want to propose the idea that you hydrate because of how busy you are and how many people are counting on you. If you show up to life dehydrated – in body or spirit – it’s going to be tough to do more than just survive. And I know you want more than that or you wouldn’t be here.
So, I’m raising my glass of water to you right now - here’s to Thriving!