So, I’m currently in the midst of prepping for my third half marathon. The race is on May 1, right before the end of the semester, and so far, training is going pretty okay. I’ve been enjoying running more as the weather gets warmer and I’m more excited to have an excuse to be outside. We should pause here, though, to acknowledge the fact that I’m running a half marathon. I’m running. I’m planning to run a distance that has marathon in the name. I’m participating in a thing called a marathon that has nothing to do with summer break and Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman. (Do you guys remember that summer? That was a great summer.) Okay, but really – and this is not my first time. I’ve successfully completed 26.2 miles of running (with a six month pause in between). I ran ten (slow and cranky) miles on Sunday. Marvel, one and all, and be amazed, as we think back to my honestly traumatizing gym class experiences in elementary and middle school, when I could not run an entire mile, thankyouverymuch, without walking and/or wheezing. I took an aerobics class for my gym credit in high school so that I could avoid running miles and playing sport games involving coordination and could just bounce around doing step aerobics videos. (“My step came in the mail! Let me just run… down the steps… to get my step…”)
We must ask then – wha’ happened? How did this become a thing in my life? (I’m pretty sure we’ve talked about this before, but I promise, there will be a point to this eventually.) I tried running on and off in college, once or twice a semester, with no great success. The summer before my senior year, though, things changed. I came back from studying abroad with a newfound sense of determination, I guess, and had exactly one really great idea: mental high-fives. Mental high-fives early and often. I started enthusiastically congratulating myself on my great fitness accomplishment as soon as my feet hit the pavement. Are you wearing running shoes? Are you outside? You did it! Are you moving away from your house? Yes! You’re still doing it! You are a success! Are you getting tired now, and thinking about walking? That’s okay! You’re still outside! Moving! You ran today! Hooray! High-five!
What’s the value to this plan? Turns out I was not very good at running, but I am even worse at enjoying things that I feel like I’m not very good at.(#reasonsourfamilydoesn’tplayboardgames) Previous fitness attempts involved a lot of self criticism. I’d make a plan, like “run to the park”, and then get tired on the way there, and quit running, and feel like a failure, and then NEVER TRY TO RUN TO THE PARK AGAIN because trying (and failing!) to run to the park just made me feel bad about myself. For a while I figured the answer was just “try harder”. But it’s hard to get better at something without trying at all, so the answer for me was actually “do what you can” which turned into being able to do more the next day. Or the next week. Or the next year. (You’ll notice that several years elapsed between when I started a semi-sustainable running habit and when I thought signing up for a half marathon was a good idea.)
Alright. So why am I bringing this up again? It’s spring break for me right now, where “break” is code for “spending a week in the library trying to get caught up on all the projects and also procrastinating and kind of hating yourself”. (That name is much less catchy, granted.) Unfortunately, the procrastination/dread-of-doing-the-things isn’t limited to break. It’s been a real bother this semester. I tend to start the day with lofty goals, and I’m even on a fellowship this semester, which means I’m not teaching, which means I can be extra ludicrously ambitious. The day begins and I start trying to do a thing. That’s when I discover that the thing is hard! It’s hard and maybe I’m not being immediately or obviously successful. This is when the internal commentary steps in: so you’re not done yet, huh. looks like it’s not going so well. this is really important, so it’s too bad you’re screwing it up. probably never going to get a job. you’re really not cut out for this. look at how much you’re struggling. if you were smarter, this would be easier. but you’re not. (GAH IT’S EXHAUSTING JUST TRYING TO TYPE THAT OUT NO WONDER I’VE BEEN FEELING SO CRAPPY.) So I’ve gotten to thinking about the ways I can break the cycle.
Enter: Mental High-Fives. Early. Often. Is there a way to translate this strategy to my work life? (Side note: either the unthinkable is happening and I’m successfully making a SPORTS METAPHOR or we can say I’m just thinking mathematically and trying to generalize a technique to a slightly different situation. Your call.) I’m going to try it. I’m going to try to set attainable goals, but mostly I’m going to try to give myself a big mental high-five for trying. For starting. For showing up and doing the work, regardless of the outcome or the value or the merit. That was thing about running for me – I had to stop the constant evaluation of my success, mid-stride, to be able to get anywhere. So let’s do it. High-fives for showing up and trying to do a thing. I’ll let you know how it goes. (We may not be off to a great start, since I just spent a good chunk of my library time writing up this manifesto instead of, you know, doing actual work.)
High-fives all around,
PS. A secondary strategic point for anyone actually thinking about starting a running habit: cute workout clothes you’re excited about wearing. Abby, you and I went to Old Navy together the week I got back from France, I think, and we got matching running shorts. Very important part of the process. Third strategic point: encouraging friends. I have had a group of really wonderful people show up in my life and hold me accountable to getting outside and getting moving at various points. Most of their names start with “K”. So… there’s that.