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8 lessons that running taught me about creating momentum to change

How do you go about creating momentum to break through the obstacles to change?

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Photo by Curtis MacNewton on Upsplash
Photo by Curtis MacNewton on Upsplash

How do you go about creating change in yourself or your organisation? It’s not easy right? Most things worth doing tend not to be. You’re going to have to overcome obstacles. It’s going to be difficult. In some cases, it might be painful. In some cases, you might ‘fail’.

In my experience, the rewards associated with implementing change largely outweigh the risks, but only those who choose to start can support this being the case. Getting started, or creating momentum, is always the hardest obstacle to overcome. So for most, they will ‘fail’ before even getting started.

“Struggling and suffering are the essence of a life worth living. If you’re not pushing yourself beyond the comfort zone, if you’re not demanding more from yourself – expanding and learning as you go – you’re choosing a numb existence. You’re denying yourself an extraordinary trip.”

Dean karnazes, ultra marathon runner

So how do you go about overcoming inertia and creating the momentum you need to change? Around this time two years ago I made a very big life change and decided I wasn’t going to die prematurely. Eight months prior to making this decision, I had buried my father who passed away suddenly at the very young age of 63. So on a cold dark night in October 2018, I decided I wasn’t going to let the same thing happen to me. I downloaded the Couch to 5K app, set my alarm and the next morning I was panting and wheezing my way around the streets. Fast forward to present day and I’m the fittest I’ve ever been in my life. 

Learning how to run has been an incredible journey and I wanted to share with you the lessons I have learned along the way which I believe are equally applicable to bringing about any form of change, whether it be your organisation, your career, or some other aspect of your life.

  1. Realising you are going to die is a powerful motivation force

Apologies for starting off morbid but the facts are that at some point you will cease to exist in your current form. You will die. Once you realise and embrace this, you will start to look at the world differently. I wish I had truly embraced this fact earlier in my life. I would have perhaps been a little more adventurous. I would have been more fearless. I would have worried less. Running started as a way to extend my life, to get myself fit, to reverse my bad habits. What I didn’t expect was that it would become a core part of my daily routine and outlook in life. To keep moving forward….

2. Don’t be embarrassed to start small

I was embarrassed to start small. The thought of people looking at me and judging me for not being able to run consistently for 5 minutes shamed me. I would get up at 5:30 am to run so that no-one would see me. So that no one would judge me. How very wrong I was. In my experience, the running community is one of the most supportive communities out there! That silent nod of approval you get as you pass other runners to say, “I’ve been there, I know what you are going through, keep pushing, it’s worth it in the end…” is magnified for new runners. The same is true in your career. The only people who will judge are those people who are threatened by your progress. You shouldn’t be listening to those people anyway…

3. Enlist the services of a coach

Now I run a leadership and performance coaching business so you might think I am biased on this point. You’d be right! But for good reason. Working with a coach inspired me to become one! It is one of the single best decisions I have made in my life. I don’t have a running coach (yet!), but I have been consistently coached over the past two years by a strength coach at HENCH. My coach helped me to understand the importance of good form, managing effort, nutrition and recovery. They helped me to build confidence in something I always wanted to do but was afraid of hurting myself or looking silly. They helped me to unlock my potential and move forward…

4. Break down big goals into bite-sized chunks

There are loads of good articles and videos on the internet about goal setting, so I won’t go into too much detail here except to say that on that cold night in October 2018 I wrote down a set of goals in my phone and have been working backwards ever since. Interestingly, I wanted to start working on those goals prior to New Year’s Eve so that I could get the momentum I needed to break through my typical lack of discipline with New Year’s resolutions. Breaking down big goals into bite-sized chunks helps to create momentum, and momentum is what you need to overcome the obstacles you will face on your journey. I like to break down my goals into objectives that I can complete over 8 – 12 weeks. Once I have those set, it’s a case of breaking those down further into tasks that I need to complete each week to achieve that objective. For running, it was a case of completing couch to 5km, incrementally working my way up to 10km, increasing pace over 10km and then most recently working my way incrementally up to a half marathon. Day by day, mile after mile until I reach my goal (my first marathon).

“Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity.”

James clear, author, atomic habits

5. Get some accountability partners to maintain consistency

I’d be a liar if I said that I jump out of bed ready to go every morning. I take some serious convincing. From the moment the alarm goes off the debate starts in my head between my angel and my devil as to “whether it’s too cold this morning”, or “my legs are too sore” or “I’ll just go later”. This still happens every morning and at times the devil wins and I roll over, go back to sleep and miss my session. However, I RARELY miss a session if someone is waiting for me. The thought of letting them down is too powerful and easily overcomes the allure of my nice warm bed. My learning? Make sure you involve others in your goals to help keep you consistent. The human race is, after all, is supposed to be a team sport.

6. Test yourself and learn from the mistakes

A great way to maintain momentum is to create what I call “showcase” objectives where you display all your efforts for others to see. In running the easy way to do this is to compete in a race, but it equally applies to any new skill you are working on to help achieve your goal. Showcasing your work and competing will help you to maintain momentum by identifying areas where you can improve and challenging you to take action. It’s also a great way to reward yourself for all your efforts.

7. Ignore the advice sometimes and go with your gut

It’s important to realise that not all the advice you receive will work for you, and at times the advice you receive may even be contradictory. That’s why it’s important to try multiple avenues to discover what works for you. I received loads of advice when I first started running, how to prepare, what shoes to wear, what socks to wear, run frequency, run intensity etc. All of it great. Most of it contradictory. Once I had done the miles, I realised that only some worked for me. In some cases, it’s important to ignore all the advice and just go with your gut.

8. Reflect on the journey and celebrate your success

At the end of each coaching session, I ask my clients “what did you love about this session?” Without a doubt, they will say “I loved reflecting back on……”. With all the pressure in modern life to move forward with pace, many of us (me included!) have forgotten how to take the time to stop and reflect on the journey that has got us to where we are now. It is an incredible gift to be able to do this and I’ve found that running has given me the time and peace of mind to be able to reflect more often. Lastly, don’t forget to celebrate each and every one of your successes. No matter how small.

“Sometimes in order to keep moving forward, not only must you take one step at a time, but you must be willing to look back occasionally and evaluate your past, no matter how painful it is. Looking back lets you know whether or not you are headed in the right direction”

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I hope this post inspires some of you to lace up your running shoes and hit your local park, trails or track this weekend. I can honestly say it has been one of the most rewarding changes that I’ve made in my life and the process to get to where I am now has taught me much much more than how to be a runner. Its taught me that consistency is important. Getting support is important. Nothing is ever as hard as it seems and that constantly moving forward is one of the greatest joys in life.

Share your own stories of building momentum in the comments below. I would love to hear them. I am always looking for more inspiration for myself and others!

Your Coach,

Mark.

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