You know how you can totally love something, but some days it totally sucks? That would be me and running nearly every day, but even when I’m slugging through a mile on a hot, hilly road or on my elliptical death-staring at the counter until the damn thing hits 3 miles, I know I’ve made the right decision to get out there and get sweaty. Daily actions transform the big picture. Even when running totally isn’t fun, for some reason, it’s the best un-fun I could have.
I recently picked up The Happiness Project by Grechen Rubin (yes, I know it’s amazing I’m the only one who hasn’t read it yet) and in one chapter, she details the importance of goals and challenges in our life. Goal setting for happiness is common knowledge, but she makes an important distinction where many us go awry in plotting our happiness- it’s not the achievement, it’s the process, and it’s biologically proven.
Though we tend to fixate on the goal as being our key point in measuring our bliss- boarding the plane for a Hawaiian vacation, getting a stellar performance evaluation at work, or, in my case, finishing my first half marathon, our brain generates the “happy vibes” from our process, our journey towards the goal, not the destination. As I was reading the chapter about how the goal creation process is the key to happiness, not the attainment of the goal, I was a bit miffed… how could crossing the finish line of my first half marathon not be what makes me happy? How could the countless sweaty, breathless miles and the challenging physicality of the process be my bliss-strategy?
Then it hit me- every time I’ve made a goal, as soon as I hit the goal, the happiness was short lived and I was already focusing on the next milestone. When I sat down to think about it, overcoming the little challenges that lead to the bigger accomplishment are what brings me the most joy. I can think of the last two months of half marathon training- the very first time I laced up my shoes and could barely run around the block, but I still was glowing that I did it, or when I ran my first mile, my first five miles, then I had my best mile time, then when I hit six miles… those were hard victories, but they felt damn good.
I’ve always been a type A personality- I plan out my years down to the months and weeks. For most of my life I told myself, “I’ll be happy when…” to graduate with honors from undergrad, then to graduate with honors from graduate school, to find a loving partner, to hit a level of recognition on my blog. I feel like I was holding my breath to be validated by goals instead of enjoying the process- but running has changed not only how I feel about my body, but how I feel about my life.
Trust me, when you start as slow as I did and try to kick 25 years of couch potato habits if you can’t find joy in the process of getting fit, you’ll never make it to 13.1 miles. Running has built up my soul’s endurance, but also the bliss you can feel from daily challenges, not just goal posts.
Don’t get me wrong, I am still no athlete- but I don’t care. My life has been transformed. When I started running, I told myself, “I just need to run the Tinker Bell, I just need to be able to do 13.1 miles and prove everyone, and myself, wrong.” But what I began to see is that the greatest accomplishment isn’t the one day you hit that mark, it’s the hundreds of other days you prepare for it.
Running has helped me recognize my truth. It reconnects body to mind and makes you, sometimes painfully so, confront the limitations of your mind, body and spirit. Then, it pisses you off enough to break through those limitations- or at least attempt to.
So now, three months into my training I’m not only surprised by the transformation of my body (hey look at you sexy legs!) but also of my entire attitude. The process can be daunting, but it’s a daily assessment of my grit and a trial against complacency. I know crossing the finish line of my first 13.1 mile race will be a victory, but the forging of a new character and chipping away at my limitations every day is truly the greatest reward. Even when I hate it, I love it.