Monthly Archives: March 2015

Lasting for the Long Haul


So I’m preparing to do a 10k this week. For many runners, this isn’t a great feat, but I’ve never been much of a runner so it’s taken some serious planning and training for me to feel ready to do well. As I’ve been preparing myself mentally and physically, I had the thought that some of the things I’ve learned in this process are strategies that you can apply to any long- term goal. I’ve learned a lot about goals in this process, and wanted to share some of the lessons I will take away from this experience.

  • Set a goal ahead of time. I decided that I would do this about 6 months ago. The decision to seek out a big goal is often made up of smaller, seemingly minuscule decisions. But, it takes time to resolve each of those. I had to decide to do it, decide to pay for it, look at the training program, and decide each week to commit myself to that program. I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish all those steps if I had waited until two weeks before the race to get started! So, here’s the gist– it’s good to consider the long-term. Especially for something that will take a lot of preparation and planning to do well, set your goal well in advance. It will help you to think about and identify everything you will need to actually reach your goal, which is the next lesson learned.
  • Understand what you need to succeed. When embarking on a big goal, it is well worth your time to sit down and think about how you can best set yourself up to succeed. What are the things that will be easy about the process. What will be harder? How can you prepare to combat the barriers you will face in the process? For me, I knew an important part of the process would be committing to actually jogging on the days I was supposed to according to my training program. That meant planning out my week to make sure I wouldn’t find excuses to just skip a day. It also meant getting some new shoes because I typically hadn’t jogged more than once a week consistently. For you, it might be setting up a deposit to your savings account just like it’s a bill, or sitting and talking with your partner about how the household will need to adjust to you going to back to school. Whatever the case may be, planning for the possibilities sets you up better for success!
  • Prepare for discomfort. This one is a tough one. When we embark on a goal, we tend to have a rosy view that is focused on the outcome we desire. While it’s certainly important to be excited when you start out, not carefully considering the challenges can actually make it harder for us to persist. One of the things I’ve learned through this process is that if I know the discomfort is coming, I won’t be so discouraged by it. I knew I would experience some soreness after my first 5 mile run, so I prepared for it, and it was fine. I knew that I would need to stretch my legs more diligently so I could manage tightness in my muscles, so I did.  What are the areas of discomfort you might experience? When do you anticipate it will be hardest to stick to the plan you’ve set? What can you do about it?
  • Seek out support. There are very few (if any) situations where support doesn’t make things better. It’s one of the reasons all the research indicates that support groups are helpful for anything from chronic or terminal illness, to weight loss, to parenting. Having support serves the important functions of having an arena where we can commiserate or celebrate, and having a method of accountability. For me, that support was my church training team. I knew that at least once a week, I wouldn’t be running alone. I knew I always had someone to check in with out be my progress, to hold me accountable for sticking to the program, and to encourage me when I didn’t feel like it. Having support, whatever the form, is a constant reminder that you are not alone. This support can be spiritual, social, or functional in nature. For some goals, you might need a little of all of those elements. It depends on the person and the purpose.
  • Celebrate your success. Finally, plan to celebrate when you reach your goal! Knowing that a celebration will come with the achievement of your goal can act as a reward to keep going. It is also a monument to all the hard work you put in. When you reach the finish line, you deserve a pat on the back!

So, the moral of the story is that if you really want to last for the long haul, planning, support, and celebration are all important pieces of the puzzle. Whether it’s weight loss, or running, or a savings plan, or an educational goal, you will do better if you can set yourself up for success. So don’t wait. What do you want your future to look like?

How Much is Too Much?

I see a lot of people talking about pushing themselves to reach their ultimate potential, and the lengths to which they will go in order to reach their goals. To this end, it seems that there is a message that working with a dogged intensity that leaves you running constantly is the only way to get where you want to be. It’s admirable to push yourself beyond the bounds of your current situation. It’s brave to move out of your comfort zone, and it’s exciting to make real steps toward making your dreams come true. Ambitious dreams make it necessary for us to sacrifice and work long hours. You know the saying: blood, sweat, and tears.

The ambitious professional in me loves this spirit- the sense that sleep is for those who aren’t ready for the challenge. Maybe, in our dog-eat-dog world, that’s accurate. However, there’s another part of me, the therapist in me, who is worried about a world where #teamnosleep is a badge of honor. It feels disrespectful of our hummanness, our natural need for down time and rest. I worry that we run the risk of killing ourselves and calling it living. I think a lot about striking the balance between ambition and self sacrifice. There are goals I have that I haven’t achieved yet and am working toward. But honestly, I struggle with figuring out how much to push myself. I am a hard worker. I don’t mind going above and beyond. I don’t mind some late nights or long hours. But I don’t want to slave myself away for the sake of achieving a goal. I don’t desire to beat myself into submission in service of calling myself a hustler. I have not yet figured this out. I don’t know if I will. But, I do have some ideas about how I can continue to answer this question.

I think it’s important to ask ourselves the purpose of our striving. Why am I working so hard for this goal? There are lots of valid reasons- a sense of call or passion, a desire to give back to the community, a feeling that there is no other option, financial stability, the list goes on. Whatever the answer to that question is, it needs to make sense for you based on your values. Hustle without passion is empty and exhausting. I do what I do because I feel called to do it. It is a part of what brings meaning to my life and it is worth losing some sleep over.

Next, consider the cost of your sacrifice. Is it worth it? There are only 24 hours in a day. Every day. You can’t make time appear out of no where, and inevitably dedicating more time to one venture means dedicating less time to another. There is a cost associated with your striving, and it’s important to consider whether you feel the cost matches the reward. For me, there are certain things that are not negotiable: my marriage, my mental health, my faith, to name a few. I want to be successful, but those things will not be casualties- I’m unwilling to make those sacrifices. So, that means that some days instead of staying up to read or write or whatever the next task is, I let it sit. Perhaps this means my business doesn’t take off as quickly as I would like- I’m ok with that consequence. For each of us, that reasoning is different.

Finally, ask yourself: what happens if I fail? What happens if I succeed? We can work really hard for something, and it simply doesn’t work out. And, we can work really hard for something and it completely takes off. If you succeed, will you be ready for the fruits of your labor? If it fails, will you feel that your time was well spent? I know it may seem like the “wrong attitude” to consider a possible failure, but failure is a reality in life. Too often we try to make failure a taboo, but failure can also help us to learn a lot. If you can look back on a failure and feel that the time and energy you spent was still worth it, it was absolutely the right thing to do!

It’s a hard balance to find. Success (however you define it) is intoxicating. We all want to say we have made something of our lives. But, my hope is that we can have much flexibility in defining what that success looks like. What good is reaching a goal if you are too exhausted to enjoy it?  I don’t know what the right answer is for you. Only you can answer that. I will say that understanding how much is too much is dependent upon you knowing and listening to yourself. Our bodies and spirits often tell us when we are pushing too hard. It’s important to drown out the din of a demanding world in order to hear it. One of my favorite quotes is one from Maya Angelou:

Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.

I love this definition because it is both individualized and comprehensive. I think about it often, and try to make decisions about how hard to push myself based on this. Narrow definitions of success can often lead to self-criticism and disappointment. So, whatever your definition of success, don’t forget to take care of yourself in the process! Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices.