Three years ago I ran two marathons in one month. Okay, that’s a lie. I ran 85.114% of the Chicago Marathon and then a month later I ran 100% of the Philadelphia Marathon. If you add those two together, I ran 185.114% of the two marathons. I’m pretty sure that is not how math works, but it sure does make me feel good.
After the second marathon, which was quite the emotional accomplishment after what happened in Chicago , I ran another 10k, another 1/2 marathon and then another trail race before finding myself with a sore right achilles tendon. It hurt me for quite a while and I ended up finding myself incredibly out of shape.
After being in what was easily the best shape of my life, this was depressing. I went from being able to run 6, 8, 10 miles without much of a second thought to being winded running to get my phone away from my 6 year old before he dropped it in the toilet.
In the last four years since being that lean mean running machine, I’ve false started a new running program approximately 28 times. This year, 2016, was the first time I was in danger of not running one single time in an entire calendar year since 2011. Edit: Turns out I ran 2.15 miles on January 4th. You can imagine by the tone of this narrative how that New Years resolution turned out.
My weight has always hovered between 175 – 185. When I hit 190 I blamed it on old age and when I finally hit 200 I blamed it on being incredibly out of shape and I decided that I better do something about it.
But here’s the thing. I’ve decided this same thing before. Approximately 28 times.
They, whomever “they” are, define insanity as trying to same thing over and over again and expecting different results. So the question is, assuming I am not insane, “What is going to be different this time around?” That is, what will be the change that makes me realistically think I’ll actually stick with running and getting into shape?
This is the question we all ask as we look to make a change in life, or at least, it is the question we should be asking.
On November 30th, while feeling bloated from finishing up a leftover piece of pumpkin pie from Thanksgiving, I made a rash decision: I was going to exercise every day during the month of December. I did not really think this through, and I am pretty sure I decided this while I was writing the Facebook post in which I announced it.
That Facebook post led to what is going to be different this time. That Facebook post is why, as of December 19, I have exercised for 20 straight days (I got excited and started on the last day of November).
A number of years back Alan Deutschman wrote a book called *Change or Die*. In this book, he argued that real change comes when two main things are present: Community and Hope.
I was reflecting on this as I was running on day 6, trying to understand why this time around my plan to consistently run seemed to be working. I realized, I had those two things in place. But as I reflected more, it dawned on me that community and hope were not the only things necessary for me to see real change, there was one more vital ingredient: Vulnerability.
I have came to the conclusion that there are *at least* three things that must be present if we are going to experience lasting change. This applies to most aspects of our lives that we want to see a difference in. Maybe its health, spirituality, faith, education, work, etc. If we are going to change, we need at least three main things:
Brene Brown talks at length about the power of vulnerability. She says,
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”
Here is the thing, if we are going to expect change, we must be honest about the reality that things are not they way they are supposed to be. We will not change if we do not admit something is broken. We will not move forward if we cannot admit we are standing still, or worse, going backwards.
Almost every time I have seen a person (including myself) struggle with the same thing over and over and over again, there has been some sense that they have not been able to admit to themselves that there is a problem in the first place.
When I made that fateful post on Facebook about my struggle with being in shape, I was shocked at the responses I received. That post had more “likes” and comments than when I post about my adorable kids (and my kids are exceptionally cute). The reason it did? I think it is because it struck a nerve. My accidental vulnerability gave others permission to be honest about their struggles too.
In that post they realized, they are not alone.
This leads us to the next thing that we need if we expect to change.
Without community, whether it is with one person or with fifty people, vulnerability doesn’t get us very far. Do not get me wrong, it is a great start. But it cannot *end* with vulnerability. As Brene Brown says, its the path way, but it is not the destination. There have been countless times that I have resolved with myself that I was going to get back in shape (again, we can tell from the tone of this reflection that it did not work very well).
You simply cannot have vulnerability without community. Confession to yourself does not work. That is because it is not actually confession.
I need community because I need accountability. Accountability is one of those annoying things that we all know we need, but we do not really want unless we actually want to change.
When I made that initial post about exercising a little bit every day in December, the response was so great that we formed a little exercise group on Facebook to encourage one another. Each day we post what we did and how we exercised and how it went.
As I have been running these past 20 days, I am aware that I have made a commitment to a group of people that have resolved to run with me everyday. Their simple presence, and participation with me, gets me off my butt and out the door when I am feeling unmotivated.
They also help me celebrate when I need encouragement and someone to cheer me on. It may seem silly and even a bit childish, but I love it when I post a run on Facebook and my friends like it and say “great job”. Some folks may say we should be able to get out and run without needing the approval of others. Maybe I am someone who needs the approval of others more than most people (this is very likely) but there is something really encouraging about having friends cheer for you, encourage you and spur you on further down the road.
I also need community because I need someone to be there to pick me up when I fall on my face and push me forward again. Failure can derail progress. Not because of the single act of failure itself, but because of the overall effects that failure can have on your psyche. This is especially when we are trying to tackle something that has historically been an issue for us. A single moment of failure is unfortunately often an excellent reminder, not that we have simply failed, but that we *are* failures. When this happens, we need our friends, our community to pick us up, dust us off and remind us that we are not defined by these failures.
We also need hope for a better tomorrow. That is what we are talking about here. Hope that, one day reality will be different. John Steinbeck, on of my favorite authors wrote, “without hope I would sit motionless, rusting like unused armor.” When we have no hope, we also have no action. Because, what is the point of making effort to change if we are convinced that this effort will not bring about change?
Hope that there is a better future for us, is essential to lasting change.
For those who are seeking to change their body, the hope that we look forward to is that our exercise and good eating will yield better health. For those of us seeking change in our society, the hope this that our actions will yield a more fair and just society.
We simply will not change if we cannot see a promise of a better future. In Don Miller‘s excellent book, A Million Miles and a Thousand Years he writes about this in a different way. He talks about living a great story.
In fact, my first marathon was inspired by this idea. When things got hard in my marathon training (and trust me, marathon training is a grind), I found I was able to carry on as I imagined gloriously crossing the finish line in Chicago. This is why when I didn’t finish that Marathon, it was so hard. The story that I had been living was ruined. This very thing is also what made finishing the Philadelphia Marathon 5 weeks later that much sweeter. The failure made the story that much better!
So, as you look to 2017 for ways you want your life to be different. Make sure that you are vulnerable with a community that can help you imagine a better future.
I cannot guarantee that this will bring the lasting change you are looking for, but I can guarantee that these things will be essential parts of the process.
What other things are vital for you in seeing lasting change?