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A metaphor for life

Why starting a new habit as an experiment rather than a goal can be more powerful

As a leadership coach and an enthusiastic ‘back of the pack’ runner, on January 1st 2010 I began an experiment that has dramatically increased my love of running and continues to teach me lessons about running, coaching and about success in life.

Frankly my experiment started as a way to achieve some peace from my friends who kept asking what my New Year’s resolutions were for 2010. Telling them I didn’t do new years resolutions didn’t seem to satisfy them, and made me feel a bit like a New Year Scrooge!

A few days before the end of 2009 I came up with a cunning plan to silence my friends, and to try and run at least a mile every day during January 2010. I had tried twice before to run every day and failed to last more than ten consecutive days when my daily target was five or six miles. Somehow one mile felt like it was more sustainable and still worthwhile, but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep it going for 31 days.

I was pleased and somewhat surprised, when I reached January 31st and realised that I had done it! I had succeeded in my experiment with relative ease and had also thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It was then I made the decision to extend the experiment and make it open-ended. I decided to to see how many days I could run at least a mile without missing a day.

Today my Mile A Day (MAD) experiment continues, but as well as the predictable physical, mental and emotional benefits it’s given me, it’s also taught me many other lessons that have translated into all areas of my life.

I have discovered that running is a metaphor and a training ground for life; whether it’s dealing with bad days, bad moods, change, taking on new projects, dealing with relationships, or creating anything sustainable.

It’s also had a massive positive impact on my resilience.

In the past just over nine years, although I’ve had two enforced rest periods of ten days each, due to illness when I realised that continuing to run could threaten my health rather than benefit it, I’ve run in almost every kind of weather condition, in towns, cities and countryside around England, Wales and Scotland, in Europe and the U.S.

I love getting to know new locations on my daily morning mile on business trips, on holidays and when visiting friends.

Running my morning mile has become one of my most entrenched and positive habits. I’ve even been know to forget to brush my teeth, but I’ve never forgotten to run in over nine years.

My mile has become the backing track to my life and shows me how to deal with challenges and help others improve their lives.

A fellow runner once gave me the phrase; ‘running happiness’. My daily mile hasn’t just improved my running happiness; it has simply improved my overall happiness.

My biggest learning that my over nine years of my MAD experiment has taught me is that my life, and all the different projects I undertake within it, can work so much better when I treat it as an experiment rather than a goal or something that I must achieve at all costs.

I’m convinced that I would not have run 3, 292 days out of a possible 3,312 in the past nine years if I had made that my goal.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson, the 19th century essayist and poet, said, “All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.”

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