The Power of Possibilities

On the heels of the #RuntoRemember event on Sunday, I thought a release of the next installment in a series of blog posts related to reducing stress and positive thinking made sense. It seems as I write each of these, a new topic of discussion comes to mind. The first Blog post entitled “The Necessity of Difficult Things” discussed how I learned over time to find something that helped me constructively deal with stress. The post was intended to engage readers to reassess how they deal with stress, ask themselves if it is working for them, and nudge one down the path towards understanding what things may work better for them. Today’s post is a bit different, but again has roots in running. Odd for me to admit that something I hated and avoided for decades holds both obvious and hidden meaning. But as they say, life is a journey…

This past January my daughter Summer told me her New Years Resolution was to run her first half marathon before the year’s end. For some folks, this New Year’s Resolution might seem par for the course, but for Summer this is a big deal- a very big deal. Back in middle school she struggled to conform and feel comfortable in her own skin (rough times as we all remember). I knew her to be a hard worker, a smart and friendly kid who easily made friends with all sorts of folks, young and old. She really has a wonderful gift of making people feel comfortable and liking her off the bat. But it was very clear she lacked confidence, she was unsure of herself despite her natural gifts and how she viewed herself was very different (much less positive) than how others viewed her. This was painful to see as a mother, but not something that was remedied with me telling her more often how great she was and about the skills and gifts that I saw her use in her daily life. This was a personal journey that she needed to travel, and I could assist and play a big role in that journey, but it was one she needed to decide to embark on.

So I started seeding some food for thought on different ways she might be able to start this self-improvement project, and one day in January of 2012 she finally came to me and asked if I would help her train for a 5k race that spring. I enthusiastically agreed, and told her I thought it would be a great opportunity for us to spend some time together no matter whether she decided to run the 5k or not (keeping the pressure low at this point seemed important).

I think it’s fair to say all of us have some ‘thing’ or aspect of our lives we might want or need to embrace a similar ‘journey’ to tackle. Professionally or personally there is always something we can learn to better ourselves. But often it’s scary, or seemingly too big a hill to climb (or even begin to think about climbing) and we put it off. Every day Dr. Gerry and I work with people who feel they have an insurmountable task ahead of them in losing weight and regaining their health. And we very strongly tell them, ‘hey taking the first step to even have a conversation with us about that task is the breaking point… it means you have acknowledged to yourself the possibility of change‘. This blog post is about the power of possibilities.

As a young child Summer was very active, but she had broken her arm a couple years prior to 2012 and had since not really engaged in athletics, opting for books and school work instead. So at the age of 11 she did not have much of a base of cardiovascular fitness and I am fully sure she was equally scared stiff and excited about the goal she had set for herself. We started off slow… SLOW… getting some good running shoes… talking in depth about each daily and weekly goal and putting it into perspective. Week 1: 3 runs that week with each run comprised of 2 total minutes of running broken into 4- 30-second intervals with 2 minutes of walking in between… (2 minutes doesn’t seem like a lot, mom! I can totally do that) …running meaning we go faster than walking but we are not racing each other. We kept an easy pace… nice and clear, seemingly easy -with very defined goals. And I did this on purpose because I remember vividly how much I struggled in the first weeks when I started running.

So our first day we were careful to make sure we had everything we needed. We had our headphones and music players charged up, I had my running watch to keep track of the time and we were off… and the first 30 seconds go by, not bad… the second 30 seconds is half way done and then it gets HARD. I offered some gentle support (almost there just a few more seconds!), big picture perspective (wow we are already half way done!!), and lots of positive feedback (I am so proud of you for pushing through!). That first week was an interesting combination of ‘oh boy what did I get myself into’ and ‘cool I did it’. And in this timeframe reassessment of the goal occurs… Can I really do this? Do I want to do this? And I tried very hard to provide positive feedback but not overdo it, while also actively knocking out any comments I heard about quitting (it’s been less than a week, I believe you can do this- so work with me for two weeks before you make any decisions).

When most people embark on a significant endeavor, one that requires time and energy and pushes you beyond your comfort level, that first week is the most critical. The small triumphs have not yet had long enough to build momentum and the discomfort is in the forefront of our minds. We see and feel the impossibilities… and have not yet allowed ourselves to be open to the possibilities. SOOOOOO many people quit in this first week, if I had a penny for every time I have heard clients tell me they tried to diet, or quit smoking, or exercise and couldn’t get through the first week. Change is hard, there is no doubt, but a shift in thinking is the key to success or failure.

So we are now about three weeks into our new endeavor, and Summer is pushing through- it’s not easy, but we are now running for 2-3 minutes at a time. She’s made it past the first two weeks; she has improved enough and shown enough resolve that now I can be a little tougher on her without fear she will flat out quit. In response to the ‘I have a cramp in my side I have to stop’ I can point out we have 20 seconds left in this 3 minutes and then we can walk it off and she trusts me enough to know I am not fibbing. I point out how far she has come in only three weeks and how she has completed every run we scheduled and followed through on her promise to herself to give it a shot… progress and positive reinforcement. Slow, but steady progress to build upon.

This is not all that different to what we see and hear with people on our programs. Some folks lean more on ‘I can’t’ and ‘I have to’ as a knee jerk reaction when the going gets tough. In any endeavor worth pursuing, the going ALWAYS gets tough. Instead of a reason to stop, look for a reason to continue. I’ve come this far; I CAN go a little further, and I trust that there is someone there to help me find strength to test my limits.

Each week Summer’s ‘I can’t’ comments are overtaken by ‘OK, let’s try’. In a subtle way Summer has PROVEN to herself that she is capable of more than she thought was. What a huge turning point. And this is really what this blog post is about. That time where something you were absolutely convinced you could never do becomes potentially possible. That door that was shut to you now is cracked ever so slightly open. Summer turned those three weeks into four months and we did our first running event, a one-mile run, on Mother’s Day 2012.

Summer was convinced that being a runner was not within her, yet she made it happen, slowly- with effort and setbacks- but she made it happen all the same. Once that limit had been tested and broken through I started to see her testing limits in all sorts of areas (school work, social settings, etc) and watched her confidence grow. She ran her first 5k in June of 2012, joined the track team her freshman year in high school, now she won’t bat an eyelash at a fun run 5k (even running solo when I am injured as the picture above shows), and she routinely kicks my butt when we run together. Once you prove yourself wrong and accept that maybe you can do more than you thought, the range of possibilities becomes endless because the world truly is your oyster.

With clients that go through our programs, we not only see a reduction of weight and improvement of health but we also hear them talk about renewed engagement at work, confidence that they can be successful in other things that they had been holding back on. Once you start testing your limits and find out you are stronger and capable of far more than you ever thought, the world looks different. You have proven you can do something you were so sure you could not do, so what’s next? What else have you closed yourself off to? Maybe it’s time to crack that door open just a bit and re-examine?