Last week I bought a pair of running shoes.
It’s a small thing really. Many of you may shrug it off as insignificant. But for me it’s huge. I’ve never thought of myself as an athlete, much less a runner. I still don’t. My pursuits generally lean in a more leisurely direction. Running was something I did when one of my children cried out in pain. I’m not a total couch potato. My involvement with the Boy Scouts of America occasionally found me camping, hiking, or canoeing. Other than that though, I was pretty sedentary. And it showed.
I’m one of the millions of Americans who would moan about the unhealthy state of my body, suck in to button my pants, and then reach for a second helping of some greasy, fattening junk food. I regularly promised myself that this would be the week I did something about my health. This would be the week I finally got serious about exercising and eating better. But like so many others, I never did it.
Then a couple of months ago I participated in a Color Run. I walked the event, huffing and puffing the entire way. With each step, I grew more and more frustrated with myself and my lack of discipline. I was surrounded by hundreds of people at least as unhealthy as me, but all I saw were the strong, toned bodies running seemingly effortlessly ahead of me. I thoroughly enjoyed the event, but it made an impression on me. Something clicked and spurred me to action. I decided to stop wishing and start doing.
I began by searching for beginner workout plans. I came across one called “90 Days of Action” that looked fairly easy. It features two or three exercises a day using only your body weight. The total time investment is maybe ten minutes. Surely, I thought, I can commit to ten minutes a day. I’m motivated by seeing clear progress, so I made a chart and started marking off the days.
As promised, the workouts were short and not so difficult that I couldn’t manage them. After a week or so of crossing off the days, I read about the American Heart Association’s recommendation to take 10,000 steps per day. I downloaded an app to my phone and started walking. That led to discussions with a couple of people about the Fitbit bands they were wearing. I ordered one. A recommended companion app got me to tracking my calorie intake. Almost subconsciously, I started adjusting – ever so slightly – what and how much I ate. Then one day last week, in the midst of walking around the park, the thought came to me …
“I think I could run for a little bit.”
It’s often said that people are afraid of change. That’s not true. If people feared change we would never buy new clothes, trade in our cars, or rearrange the furniture in our house. No, people don’t fear change. What we fear is transition; the work it takes to move from one state to another. We want the change to take place – we just balk at the act of changing.
I think most transitions fail because we try to take on too much at once. There’s a reason gym membership goes up right after New Year’s Day and falls off less than three months later. There’s a reason most attempts at dieting don’t stick. It’s because those moves are too big. They involve too much change at once. The finish line is too far off and the mountain just seems too high. All it takes is one small slip and we feel like we’ve failed. Game over.
The secret to successful change, I believe, lies in small moves. It requires taking a long-term view as opposed to our typical “I want it now” expectations of instant gratification. It means taking things slow and focusing our energy on the first small step – the first small chunk. That allows us to more easily get back up if we stumble. It also allows us to achieve victory, however small, a lot sooner. And each small victory provides the boost you need to tackle the next step.
Chinese philosopher Laozi once said “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” That makes more and more sense to me. Taking the first step is always the hardest, so why not make it a small one – a downhill step if you will. That makes step two easier. Step three becomes easier still. Pretty soon you look back and gaze in wonder at how far you’ve traveled.
I didn’t set out to become a runner. All I did was take the first step. And then last week… I bought a pair of running shoes.