If you run a great race, feel wonderful, don’t pull any muscles, enjoy yourself and finish in the middle, did you win?
Most people would say no. Unless I am first, or in the top few, then am I a success?
I don’t know. It’s up to the individual to decide that. I kinda like the idea of enjoying the journey, and enjoying it a lot. In fact, if I am running with friends, or have my favorite songs playing, if my body feels alive and I’m feeling energetic and cooled by the wind and the shade of some big trees, that’s way more important than what happens in the end.
Full disclosure: I haven’t actually been a runner in years. Long story that I won’t bore you with. But I like metaphors, so bear with me.
My point is this: how you feel about your life journey has everything to do with your standards for success. And there’s a twist. Success also has everything to do with whether you love the journey. So if I want desperately to be a top race finisher, it would be a really great idea to find out what goes into my love of running. Not every run will be optimum, and life includes plenty of sweat and hard work and effort. But if most runs are full of misery, if I dread the process, odds are I’m not going to apply myself with as much gusto as if I found a way to tap into my best performance by taking great care of myself, the runner.
To mix metaphors really quickly on you (I can’t help myself I love metaphors): happy cows make the best milk. Put a drill sergeant in front of a cow and scream in it’s face and, honestly I have no idea what will happen. But I don’t think I want to drink it.
Back to running, and to life. If we measure success with a much broader and perhaps more honest definition, we can open our eyes to the many ways in which we succeed in every step along the journey. And those who have a successful journey are more likely to finish, and to “succeed” than those who don’t look at, and appreciate, everything that goes into the race.
This reminds me of a counseling session in which the client was so distraught about his one elusive goal that he had failed to recognize how exceedingly good his life was. When we worked together to examine what would happen if he faced his fears and let go of the goal, he was hesitant, skeptical, and ultimately thrilled. His life was better, as were the lives of his wife and children. In just one session, everything changed, but nothing changed. Years of distress melted away and he reported feeling relieved, excited and absolved of having to do anything different at all besides enjoying all the blessings that he had in life.
Confidence comes not from certainty that every outcome we want will come true. (It won’t.) It comes from having a sense of mastery over the process. If I know the conditions I run best in, I can make a goal of meeting those conditions. If I wear comfortable shoes, drink what I love to drink, figure out if I’m a loner or social, and all the other ingredients to optimize my training, my journey, I can be confident that I’ve achieved the important goal of enjoying my runs. And, not coincidentally, I am in a better position than ever if one of my goals is to finish first.
Just to be super concrete, here’s what it looks like all spelled out:
1. Look at all goals, and consider the importance of each. So, goals are: finish first, don’t injury myself, stay hydrated, have fun, feel the joy of having a healthy body, prolong life, stave off poor health, enjoy the sun (or shade), inspire young people, get Nike endorsement, have alone time (or time with friends), see the world (the woods on this trail, the city where the race is, your neighborhood, whatever). See? Lots and lots of goals, some of which to ME beat finishing first. Particularly the whole “prolong life” part.
2. Consider what you need to do to achieve each goal. Getting up at 4 a.m. causing you to hate running? Consider going to bed earlier, or taking a nap, or running at lunch. You get the idea. Feet hurt? Might want to get that checked out.
3. Take note, as you go, of each success. This is just plain gratitude. “Yum, glad I brought my favorite Gatorade flavor.” “I’m glad I run with Joe, he’s hilarious.” “I feel like I could run a million miles when it’s 10 a.m. and shady!”
4. Identify, and toss, what doesn’t work. Granola making you sick? Ok, try bananas. Noon-day sun causing fatigue? Get a big hat, find a shady trail, or get up at 4 a.m. Work on the goal of finding or making the best conditions more often.
5. Brag. Yep. Drop the humility and tell everyone how good of a run you just had with your giant hat and your blue Gatorade, and how alive you felt and how you’re pretty sure you just prolonged your life by seven minutes. Celebrate every success. You will grow in confidence when you take stock of how well you meet all of your goals, rather than lamenting those that are more elusive.
6. Aim high. I’m not suggesting everyone should settle for a participant trophy. One thing that makes life a joy is to have goals, to know where we want to be, to know we are working for something that’s important to us. But if everything in life is diminished while we wait for that magic moment when we get what we think we want, we kind of lose anyway.
7. Shampoo, rinse, repeat. Your confidence will grow with each step.
Margie Wheelhouse is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Springfield, Illinois. She helps couples build great relationships and repair broken ones.