For the last year or so, I’ve been a little scattered with a few too many things on my plate and I let my overall fitness suffer. So, getting back into shape was definitely on my to-do list this year.
A few years ago, I could run four or five miles without feeling that I was going to die afterwards, but this recent slip in my habits took its toll. In early January, I was slogging through two or three miles.
As I ran, and occasionally walked, I felt sorry for myself during the half hour or so that it took to get through each of those first three-milers. Part of me thought, “Hey, why should I work this hard at my age? Isn’t it time to slow down and relax and not expect this much of myself?”
But when I looked at reflection in the mirror and saw the extra pounds, I would vow to go for it again the next day. It’s now the end of March and I’m back to my regular running routine.
Today I did six miles – in the rain – and I felt fine. What happened here, of course, is that I pushed myself just a little bit at a time. I didn’t do anything crazy, but I just stuck with it and got myself past those really hard exercise sessions until things were somewhat easier.
I was thinking about this when I was trying to meet a writing deadline recently and was ever so slightly inclined to set it aside and enjoy my retired life. Instead, I stuck with it, as I’d done with the running, and I felt great afterwards that I had pushed myself past my own resistance.
The same thing is true when I have to talk to someone about something I’d rather not, and even when I have to run an errand I’ve been putting off. It turns out that there is enormous power in just nudging ourselves past that moment when we think we’d rather be self-indulgent and just relax, or even hide.
One thing I’ve come to realize is that I don’t feel the same way all the time. I may be exhausted 20 minutes into my run, but almost always I feel better about 90 seconds later. Granted, a minute and a half is a long time to keep putting one foot in front of the other if you’re tired, but if you do it you feel twice as good. Not only did you run three miles, you did it when you didn’t want to.
Making that call to the phone company is the same thing. You were dreading it, but you did it and now you feel so much better. You also learned more about yourself and your fears and apprehensions.
That sense of getting through something tough will translate to other areas of your life, too. More than 40 years ago, I quit smoking. I’d picked up the habit in high school and when I tried to quit in my 20s, it was very hard and I wanted to “quit quitting” a million times.
But, I made it through the ordeal and, even this many years later, when I’m faced with something challenging, I remember that I pushed myself through that, so surely I can get through anything. Most of our goals and limitations are in place because we put them there, so if we stand up to ourselves and say, “I can do better than this,” it builds a universal confidence in our own behavior.
When things get hard, we all think about tossing in the towel and just sitting back and relaxing, but this often eats at us later. As Vincent Van Gogh once said about his craft, “If you hear a voice within you say, ‘You cannot paint,’ then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.”
If you are a person who can push yourself through the tough times, you will also be an inspiration to others. If I’m feeling sorry for myself and wishing I could just stop doing something difficult, I’ll think of my own role models – friends and colleagues who kept at it until the finish line – and it helps.
Why not play that role for others, as well? Even your kids and grandkids will glean inspiration from knowing that you are the kind of person who has the tenacity and inner strength to move forward when you really feel like sitting down.
This doesn’t mean you can’t rest or that you can’t just stop and re-evaluate your goals, but being a person who can endure some hard times with grace will help you and other people.
On a day when I’ve finished something I had felt like abandoning, I often end up feeling pretty great. It’s the sense of accomplishment, the feeling that I’m stronger than I thought I was, and a nice boost of confidence. And what I’ve also discovered on those days is that the achievement spurs me to set new goals for myself.
A couple of times in the last few years, I’ve traveled alone. I liked the idea, but both times, when I was walking off the airplane alone, I kind of wished I were headed back home instead. But going through with those trips was amazing and the experiences have compelled me to think about other adventures, both solo and with others.
Pushing ourselves when we hit a rough patch is never easy, but the benefits are well worth it. We learn so much more about ourselves and we gain a confidence that stays with us in every area of our lives. As writer Anaïs Nin once wrote, “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”
Remember that you have that courage inside yourself the next time you need a boost to complete a tough task.
What are some things you can do to give yourself a little push? What is your own fear keeping you from accomplishing? Next time you feel like quitting, think about what’s really going on and see if you can work your way past it. What was the big thing that was stopping you? How can you face it next time? Please share in the comments.