3 of many variables associated with new relationships.

Person, time and place

I sat in Joe the Therapist’s office and began asking questions. They were not directed towards him, but questions I wanted the answers to that I couldn’t answer for myself. It all distilled down to this single query:

“What am I missing?”

As we talked through many versions of what that question could mean, he made an observation.

“All those situations had nothing to do with you.”

It was an easy statement for him to make, but an impossible one to accept.

The focus of the discussion was on starting, building and maintaining intimate relationships. As we talked through various attempts, it became even more evident to me that “had nothing to do with you” was a false understanding.

It did not help that I had just turned 40 and was not feeling proud that I was still trying to discover these secrets.

There is clearly a fair amount of emotion and self acceptance I have to dig through regarding this subject. However, I happened to be in a place where I was rethinking this question. This lead me to sit down and start writing. In that moment I realized that successful relationships almost always have three required components.

These three components seem obvious, but worth sharing as I work to clarify my own thoughts. They are: person, time and place.

Person.

It feels lazy to assert that a long term relationship requires two people who mutually believe the other is right for them. I can think of some relationships where the partners know they are with a person that is not right, but maintain the relationship for many different reasons. My observation is that those relationships are rarely healthy.

The challenge is answering the question, “Is he/she the right one?”

This seems even more difficult in a world where online dating is more common then not. This is not because online dating is horrible or even undesirable. It is because as you scroll through pages of profiles and swipe left and right, it gives the illusion that there is an endless pool of options.

This unlimited number of potential partners has meant, at least in my experience, that at the first hint of someone ‘not being the one’ results in a rapid return to scrolling and swiping.

There is also the challenge relationships face when a person was the right person, but as people evolve and change, they no longer seem to satisfy the criteria. This requires the couple to answer a different question: “Is it worth building a new relationship with this evolved individual, or should we start new with someone else?”

The statistics show that 40 to 50 percent of marriages end in divorce (apa.org), therefore it’s safe to say that when faced with this question a majority of the couples decide to move on to someone different.

The romantic in me believes in the idea that there’s an opportunity to find someone that is the right person for all the remaining years. I know it happens, but I have no data to know how large or small that percentage is.

When I evaluate the three variables, I strongly believe that understanding if the person is the ‘right one’ is by far the most difficult of them all. I also believe that once you determine that someone is not the right person, it is the easiest of all the reasons to stop moving forward.

When trying to understand if a specific person is who you should be with, there are no guarantees, but there is hope.

Time.

The phrase “timing is everything” could not be more true than in developing lasting relationships.

When you combine the time and person variables things get complicated. Let’s assume that a couple has discovered that they have found someone they are compatible with, if the timing is off for one of the two, it can be very difficult.

The timing can be off for many reasons, such as:

– One of them is not ready to enter a relationship.
– One or both of them are in an existing relationship.
– One is ready for a relationship, but wants to enter the relationship on a different timescale than the other.

My belief is that this reality is the most difficult of all the observations. The romantic side of my brain believes that ‘love can conquer all’, that if you have found the right person, you will also find a way to make it work.

When I review my experiences, I can identify times that it was simply not the right time.

Place.

What if you have found the right person and the timing is right but the place is wrong? I put place as the third variable because I see this one as the easiest of the three to overcome. I hear stories of people relocating to be with someone.

That being said, it is also a factor that is not negotiable for some. It could be due to aging parents, children in school or they live next to amazing running trails and those are of greater importance (I’m only half kidding).

Final thoughts.

I am clearly not an expert in relationship building. In fact, the evidence would point to the fact that I am not very good at it. However through those failures and as a result of those failures, I spend a fair amount of time in self reflection asking myself “What am I missing?”

Maybe Joe the Therapist is correct in saying that I am not missing anything and that it is just a matter of not aligning these three variables.

I know for a fact that there have been attempts to date those who were the wrong person. It has been the most common missing attribute. I believe that there have been a few people over the last 20 years that were possibly the right one, but at the wrong time. (Does the Garth Brooks song Unanswered Prayers start playing in your head here too?). I also believe that place might be an issue (I do find myself expanding my desirable distance on the dating apps each time I give them a try?), but it is challenging to know when place needs to be overcome.

In closing, the only thing I know for certain is that the next time Joe the Therapist and I meet, I will get my money’s worth as we dig deeper into these seemingly obvious yet challenging observations.

Growing stronger through vulnerability

When I think about strength, I have several images embedded in my mind. The first one is of my grandfather on a horse. The horse is rearing up and if memory serves me well, the horse is on one leg. This image is iconic. It embodies the ruggedness and toughness that a cowboy has to possess to thrive. When you grow up in the Sandhills of Nebraska, there are many men you can look at who possess these character traits.

As a boy in Nebraska, if the cowboy persona is not what you learned it meant to be a man, then it was likely that you understood a man was epitomized by a football player. It was Tom Osbourne. It was Husker Power. Osbourne was characterized by his stoic demeanor. He had the same emotional expression after a tough loss to Oklahoma as he did after destroying Florida for a National Championship. Husker Power was about developing physically dominating players.

The underlying observation I made as a young man was that being a man required being strong. To be strong meant displaying the characteristics of those cowboys I saw or the players and coaches we admired.

There are many nuances within those two personas that could be titrated out. Things such as:

  • never let them see you hurting
  • boys do not cry
  • keep your problems to yourself
  • do not depend on others, be self sufficient
  • have an answer to solve your problems
  • do not allow your opponent to see your weaknesses

Those were the signs of strength.

Life did not lead me to become a cowboy or a professional athlete, it lead me into the arenas of health, fitness and business.

The versions of displayed strength change in these environments, but in some ways they are similar.

Strength is embodied by:

  • capital raised
  • charts moving up and to the right
  • number of employees the company has on-boarded in the past year
  • trend lines of total revenue
  • monthly recurring revenue

What I have found in the business world is that many signs of strength are faked signals. I am not talking about fraud, although there is definitely cases of that too. I am talking about people putting out press releases, purchasing office spaces, getting media coverage and hiring new team members to give an impression that they are doing better then they really are.

In some ways it is the way the game is played. To recruit good talent, to attract investment capital and to give new customers confidence that you can fulfill your promises, you need to be perceived as bigger, stronger and more stable than you currently are.

One of the great things about starting and working with multiple health, fitness and coaching businesses is that I often get to see behind the customer’s mask. People come to me for running, but they also want friendship. They use our products to improve their health, yet they need a safe place to discuss their fears.

The biggest lesson I have learned over my 18 year career thus far is that everyone has something they are trying to work through. This is true regardless of a client’s social, financial, health or career status.

It took me a long time to observe this reality. It took a lot longer for me to realize that I didn’t have to be a perfect example of health, fitness and well-being to beneficial for my clients. I actually did not learn this until after I had stopped personal training.

Gaining strength by being vulnerable.

Lewis Howes talks about the nine masks that men hide behind in his book, The Masks of Masculinity. These masks include: The stoic mask, the athlete mask, the material mask, the sexual mask, the aggressive mask, the joker mask, the invincible mask, the ‘know-it-all’ mask and the alpha mask.

I have used each of these masks at some point, however I have been most comfortable behind the stoic, athlete and ‘know-it-all’ masks.

These are personal discoveries I started having several years ago. Through these discoveries and within time of self-reflection, I realized that the pressure of living with those masks was overwhelming.

What do you do when you want people to believe something about yourself, but you know inside it is not the way you truly feel?

I made the decision to become more vulnerable. To be more open about how I truly felt. I decided to share my fears and disregard the advice that said ‘keep your feelings to yourself’.

I have learned to say “I have no idea” and “I do not know” to more questions than I have the answer to.

Taking the step to be more vulnerable was not exceptionally easy, however it also was not unique. Individuals like Brene Brown have given power to the concept of being vulnerable. The start-up world has more and more individuals stepping forward and being open about their struggles. I am optimistic that the athletic world will also see more changes.

There have been three outcomes of becoming more vulnerable:

1. I have become stronger and more resilent. When you do not have to keep living out a narrative that is not true, it frees you to be authentic and actually proceed in real strength.

2. Individuals respond to my vulnerability by observing some of the same issues within themselves and feel empowered to speak to me.

3. People are made uncomfortable by the vulnerability and we ignore the discussion.

A tangible outcome of those observations was combining the lessons with my knowledge in coaching, health and behavior change to create the Happier and Healthier You program.

A final thought.

I am a competitive person. The arena of competition continues to change, but when I am focused, I want to win. The cowboy persona, football icons and successful business leaders all instilled in me that you should never show weakness. However, I have learned that I am much stronger when I can share my vulnerabilities and still possess the courage to take my fears head-on.

This strength allows me to be a better person, friend, business partner, lover, athlete and community member.

Express gratitude and uncover your happiness.

Check my Happier and Healthier You program

When I look at the news, check my social media accounts or have passing conversations with strangers, I am often left with feelings of anger, fear and hopelessness. The reason for this response is that so much conversation is about how our world, country, state or city is a terrible place to live.

I have had this discussion several times in the past year, but truly believe that we live in the greatest time to be alive. In five hundred years, I am confident that school children will learn about how primitive we were in some ways, such as how we struggled to treat people with equal kindness. However, I also believe they will identify this period on a timeline as a point where the human race made exponential changes, for the better. We live in an amazing and extraordinary time. I think about this each day, wondering what part I can be in leveraging these changes to support and empower others.

You do not have to share this perspective of mine. In some of the discussions I have had, I realize that I am likely in the minority by holding this perception. I definitely have friends that believe we are in a dramatic decline and live in the worst time to be alive. Like I said, these conversations make me sad. When you have that perspective it can be really difficult to find happiness.

I just shared my macro observation about our current status and place in history. Where I personally struggle is finding the joy and happiness in the day to day realities that we all face. These things include: work tasks, daily chores, regular upkeep of a house and all the other daily requirements we have. It can be easy to fall into a trap where these things become just items to get done. When any of those items start to create problems in my day, I can lose perspective quickly.

The strategy that I have worked on to find more happiness, is a daily expression of gratitude. When you first start to express gratitude on a daily basis, it is easy to find things you are thankful for. Then at some point, after you’ve been thankful for your family for the sixth day in a row, you realize that it might be useful to identify other things that are a blessing in your life.

You begin to notice smaller things in life, that often go unnoticed, yet are blessings and bring you happiness.

I have an example of a blessing the past several weeks that fits this scenario. I have been in Custer, South Dakota the past couple weeks, for the Sundance to Spearfish and Crazy Horse Marathons. When I first arrived, without wifi access readily available, I began searching for a solution. There were only a couple options. One of those options was Calamity Jane Winery and Coffee Shop. I have used their wifi and consumed their house coffee since discovering the shop.

A person could easily overlook the blessing that this has been. However, Custer is primarily a tourist driven town and many shops are starting to close. Some of those shops have been put up for sale. Therefore, I am extremely thankful that Jim (the shop’s owner) has chosen to stay open. The second thing that I am thankful for, is the hospitality that Jim and his wife has shown. While it would be a big enough blessing to have access to the wifi and coffee, they have made me feel welcomed to their small town. They were genuinely interested in the things I was up to, why I was around town for six weeks and shared suggestions for things to do. This lead a decision to attend the Buffalo Roundup, one of the best experiences of my trip.

The point in sharing this story is to recognize that it would be easy to view Calamity Jane Winery as just another coffee shop. It has been more than that, it has been a blessing. In fact, approximately 25 percent of the Happier and Healthier You program has been written while sitting in their shop.

When you develop a habit of expressing gratitude over the smaller things, it makes uncovering your happiness much simpler. When you find satisfaction in the tasks and experiences you encounter everyday, it is difficult to live with fear, hate and hopelessness.

Change your setting to change your habits: it can be as simple as going around the block

There was a period of several years that I lived in a townhouse in the south side of Lexington, Kentucky. In the mornings, I had to wake up and get to the training studio to see clients through the early hours. As I rushed to get ready and be on time, I would find myself driving down Hartland Parkway, taking a right turn onto Tates Creek Road and follow that all the way into Chevy Chase. I would then navigate my way to the studio, heading down Ashland Avenue. One of the things that was a constant irritation was sitting at the Tates Creek and Man ‘O War stoplight. It seemed to last forever and I almost always had to wait for it. However, despite the irritation, I took that route day after day. At some point they put in a Starbucks in Chevy Chase on Ashland Avenue, which also became part of the regular routine.

As I look back on that behavior, I am a little amused and confused at the same time. If I had just evaluated that behavior and asked myself, “are there any other options”. I could have easily found that there is a route that would have allowed me to enter the Man ‘O War and Tates Creek intersection off Man ‘O War, giving me a right turn. Due to the early time of day, I would not had to wait long at that intersection, even at a red light.

The question that I have asked myself many times since I realized this behavior, is “Why did I not make this observation?”

The answer is that it’s a common part of human behavior, for many people, not just myself. We develop routines to help limit the amount of decisions we make each day. These routines limit the cognitive load we encounter, allowing our decision making to be dedicated to more critical analysis. Imagine a day where you had to consciously consider every decision you made. It sounds exhausting.

When you look at the routines and patterns that exist in your life, how many of them are automatic? Your morning routine in the bathroom. Your first 5 minutes after you get home from work. The way you tie your shoes. The way you park the car in the driveway. How many of these regular activities, do you have to spend mental energy on?

There is value in having these patterns. As noted, it allows us to focus our attention on more critical decision making. However, these patterns can also create problems for us, when we are trying to live happier and healthier lives. For example, my happiness was less than it could have been, simply because my route to work was on autopilot. What about the Starbucks coffee? What happens if that coffee is loaded with sugar and fat? How often do we turn on the television at night and can not find anything enjoyable to watch, yet we continue to search for hours out of habit?

When you understand that these routines can be positive or negative, it becomes important to review and analyze the patterns overtime. Have you developed helpful patterns or harmful behaviors? The follow up question, once you understand what your routines are, is how can you change them? This entire behavior change program is about establishing routines, by starting and growing positive behaviors. That being said, there is one strategy that I have found very beneficial over the years to break me of these routines and providing enough space to evaluate what those behaviors are.

That strategy is to change your setting and environment.

Think about the last time you were on vacation, what did it feel like when you woke up in a new room and had to get ready in a different bathroom. It was pretty strange, correct? At the moment I am in a pretty blessed position to have been in the Black Hills of South Dakota for 5 weeks. In the time here, I have had the following priorities: prepare for brother’s wedding, write, run, work on programming jobs and finding new work. What is interesting about having this opportunity is that many of the daily activities I have while at home, are no longer necessary. It has provided the space necessary to look at what some of those activities are and question if they are truly critical. When I return home, I can decide if I will keep them, eliminate them or replace them.

The reality is that I have had an opportunity like this previously, which upon returning home, I quickly fell back into my standard routine. That observation highlights the power of settings and environment. The routines and behaviors have a way of returning when we put ourselves back into the original setting. While you may not have the opportunity to remove yourself from your day to day environment for several weeks, I would encourage you to be observant of your routines the next time you have a vacation. Even if that vacation is being gone for a day.

Here are some other actions you might consider to take advantage of the power your environment has on our behavior:

  • Move the living room furniture around, so your seating and television are in different locations.
  • Take a different route to work everyday.
  • Reorganize your kitchen cabinets, especially the pantry.
  • Reorganize your refrigerator.
  • Change the decorations in your office or cubicle at work.
  • Change the air freshener scent in your car.
  • Move your bathroom items to a different bathroom and use it for your morning routine.
  • Rearrange the bedroom furniture.
  • Remove anything from the bedroom that doesn’t have to do with sleeping, dressing or sex.
  • Eliminate any distractions, primarily televisions, from the dining room.

The value of routines in our lives can not be understated. There are many habits we develop that are carried out without any thought on a daily basis. The environment that we live in reinforces many of those behaviors, as our minds work to limit the amount of decisions it has to make each day. Changing your setting not only provides an opportunity for you to evaluate those behaviors, it puts you in a position to be more successful as you develop routines that lead to greater happiness and health.

Check out my free behavior change program:  Happier and Healthier You

Having a vision for the future: What is your stretch goal?

When I work with individuals, we always start with the small habits that can be easily implemented. I was not an easy convert to this process when I first learned of starting with a “tiny habit” through BJ Fogg’s research. In my mind, it seemed like the tiny habit would be too small and uninspired to keep someone motivated. One of the standard examples used when describing the tiny habit process, is that a person should develop the habit of flossing by flossing just one tooth. That practice will then develop into a habit where you are flossing all your teeth daily. The skepticism I had was that a person would often choose to not practice the simple habit, such as flossing the single tooth, because it alone has no value.

The research continues to show that starting small is the best way to develop new and healthy behaviors. I have enough experience at this point that I am convinced that if you truly desire to have long lasting change, this is the approach you should take. This is the entire reason for the instructions in the article, “Knowing is not doing”.

This fact does not mean that there is no value in understanding what the final outcome looks like. This end goal is defined differently in different situations. In the book, “Smarter, Faster, Better” by Charles Duhigg, he calls it your stretch goal. When I talk to individuals, I like to use the term ‘vision’. I like using that term because it gives me a feeling of inspiration. This is also the outcome that many people have in mind when they start a new program to become happier and healthier.

One lesson I took away from Duhigg’s book is that when you set your stretch goal, you should define something that seems a little unrealistic today. This advice is a little nuanced because there is a fine line between something that is unrealistic today and something that is completely impossible. The reward that comes with setting stretch goals that feel slightly out of reach, is that when you successfully implement the daily habits and practices, they will gradually make what once seemed unrealistic a very real possibility.

Here are some examples of stretch goals related to being happier and healthier, along with one daily habit that could be the first step to making the vision come true:

Stretch goal:  To be 50 pounds lighter.
Daily habit: Put on walking shoes and walk around the block.

Stretch goal: To manage work stress better.
Daily habit: Set a pomodoro timer and walk for 1 minute each cycle.

Stretch goal: To run a 5k with family at Thanksgiving.
Daily habit: Put on running clothes, run to end of block.

Stretch goal: To get out of chair without knee pain or support.
Daily habit: Set alarm on phone, do 5 body squats to comfortable depth each time it goes off.

Stretch goal: To have less frustration and more positive mindset.
Daily habit: Set alarm for 3pm each day, when alarm goes off acknowledge 1 thing you are grateful for that day.

When you are working hard to develop a new lifestyle, it is important to be committed to the daily process. However, to remain inspired and achieve outcomes that seem unrealistic today, it is valuable to have a vision for what the future looks like.

What is your story? Sabotaging thoughts and 2 strategies to overcome them.

We all have stories we tell ourselves. The internal dialogue we use to narrate our lives. Those stories have a strong impact on how we view the world and ourselves. The narratives create characters and setting in our minds, which we insert our identities and navigate the best we can. When you are trying to become healthier and happier, it is important that you do not let those stories become a barrier to uncovering that person.

There were many years that the internal narrative I possessed was one where I played the underdog and had to overcome many obstacles. Those obstacles included things like: lack of finances, lack of support, a biased system and an inability to be loved. The truth was that having this ‘come from behind’ story was positive in some ways. When I was full of energy and motivation, I would create the successful Hollywood narrative, where I’d rise above all the challenges placed in front of me. In those months and years, I accomplished many things and had many successes. It was this storyline that allowed me to finish college, go to graduate school and most importantly, become an endurance athlete. When it comes to performing in athletics, I have always raced from behind. The idea of being a front runner is not the story I allowed myself to consider.

The other side to this story is that when I was not as energetic and motivated, I often became sad with feelings of helplessness and loneliness. A very specific time period I remember this becoming a problem was soon after the Great Recession of 2008 to 2009. I have not went back and unpacked all of the narratives that I picked up during that time, however, when you look at the following years of 2010 to 2013 (when the storyline started to change), you can see some of the impact and consequences of those narratives.

The greatest lessons that I’ve learned from those periods of my life include:

— You have to protect who has influence over your narrative. I personally made a decision in 2012 to remove all news on television and radio from my life.

— You need to have at least one or two people who can help you create a positive narrative. I am lucky to have a few close friends that I can lean into for this.

— You need establish a habit of observation, so you can become aware of what your current narrative is. This has become a nearly constant habit for me, but initially it required a formal and scheduled action.

When you know you have a negative narrative, what can you do about it? That is one of the highest quality questions you can ask yourself. As I just shared, that question means that you have to become aware that this narrative exists. When I talk to many people, it is evident they don’t realize that the stories they are telling themselves and others each day are not supporting the life they have identified as ideal. So, what can you do to manage the storylines?

To answer that, I would like to share a personal example from running marathons.

On ideal race days, when I am running a marathon, the narrative trends from very positive to slightly negative. The slightly negative thoughts are usually when I begin obsessing about my current pace or the constant observation of the aches and pains that are present. When race day goes wrong, the story trends from positive to complete self doubt. The self doubt, in these moments, becomes so powerful that it has real impact on my physical performance. These narrative also rob me of any happiness that I might be able to find.

The value in knowing these sabotaging thoughts are going to be a part of the day, is that you can prepare and practice managing those negative thoughts. Here are two strategies that I have effectively used over the years when I race. It took me many years to realize that these same strategies can be effective when trying to manage the negative storylines in my day to day life.

Two strategies to manage negative thinking: 

1. Have a mantra to fall back on.

One of the most powerful mantras I developed for racing was during 2002 through 2003. It became so powerful because I practiced using daily. The mantra was very simple:

“I am strong. My body has done the training.”

I have had other mantras throughout the years, but I recall this one getting me through some pretty dark moments. It was also a year that I set multiple personal bests, including setting my marathon PR, which still stands today.

The value of having a mantra is when it becomes automatic. When prepared, at the first awareness of a negative internal dialogue, I return to the mantra until the dialogue has changed. Here are some examples of mantras that might be empowering:

  • I am a healthy person. I appreciate my body.
  • I am strong enough to handle today. I have everything I need.
  • In this moment, I am perfect. The future will take care of itself.
  • I am happy today. Yesterday is over.

The key is to use a mantra that has personal meaning and value for you. For many people I know, this means leaning into a religious belief. The only suggestion I would make is that you don’t use someone else’s mantra because it worked for them. Take the time and go through the process of uncovering something of meaning for yourself. It is ok if what you uncover is only useful for a short period of time. As I noted, my mantra for athletics has changed many times over the years.

2. Disassociate from the negative and move into the positive.

Another effective strategy that I have used, is to remove myself from the negative thoughts, replacing the experience with something positive. In this case, I like to use a visualization practice. I find the happy retreat, then I begin to create that setting as completely as I can. I use all my senses. If my retreat is on a trail, outside a cabin in the mountains (which it often is), then what are the sounds that I would hear? What does the mountain air smell like? How does that air feel when I breathe deeply? In a race, I work through this process, over and over until the imagery becomes as vivid and real as my mind can make it.

This past weekend, I ran the Sundance to Spearfish Marathon. It takes you through Spearfish Valley, which is one of the most beautiful places you could ever run a marathon. Somewhere around mile 16 I lost track of what mile I was running as I was absorbed by the scenery. I made a conscious decision to never look at my watch again, until the finish line. It was easy to disassociate from the reality of the race. I didn’t worry about the lack of long runs in my training. I wasn’t too concerned about little aches and pains.

However, there did come a point where I started to feel a little tired. The fatigue wasn’t worrisome, but I began to notice my legs were getting tired and I wasn’t able to distract myself by simply taking in the scenery. It was also about that point when I saw one of the small flagged mile markers. It said I was at mile 23. To combat this, I made the decision to find something else to focus on. Despite being in a perfect setting, I had to find a new scene to distract my mind from the reality of the race. As you can see from the data taken from my watch, it was highly effective.

IMG_3571

In your day to day life, you can not always fall into day dreams to avoid your stress and negative thoughts. However, I challenge you to create one visualization and work with it. Once you have practiced it, you will find that falling into the imagery, even for a brief few seconds or minutes, will enable to you tackle the sabotaging thoughts that creep into your storyline throughout the day.

The narrative that we tell ourselves and share with others can have a powerful impact on our lives. When those narratives consistently trend to negative storylines, it can be difficult to find health and happiness. Two effective strategies for overcoming those narratives are to find a personal mantra and to lean into positive visualizations. To use these tools in your journey towards health, practice often and make them a default response in those moments of need.

It is a marathon: lessons about behavior change taken from the first three miles.

It is marathon week, so I figured we could use the overused sports analogy to discuss changing our behaviors. Everyone has heard the saying,

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint”.

It has been used in everything from motivational posters and financial planning commercials to company culture documents. The lesson to individuals is that it is wise to manage your effort overtime, make logical choices to get to the next step, opposed to trying to accomplish everything in a single day.

The problem that I have with this advice is that at every marathon I have ever done, during the first few miles, the participants of the marathon forget it themselves. If there was ever someone that should understand this principle, it would probably be the marathon runner on race day. I still remember doing a marathon with a bunch of first time marathoners. We had trained for several months and were prepared to have a great day. I taught the value of having self awareness and pacing early in the race. I warned of the desire to do something you had not prepared for due to the crowd of runners. Despite that coaching, after the race started and we hit the 0.5 mile mark, one of the runners looked at her Garmin watch and saw that her average pace was slower than she anticipated. She decided to run faster and was already anxious about her finishing time.

I yelled some words of wisdom as she ran ahead. The good news is that she crossed the finish line, however the second half of the race was more difficult than it needed to be.

Why does this happen so often? What lessons can we take away from this observation and apply to our desire to change our behavior? I have a few key reasons that this mistake is so commonplace:

1. Lack of self awareness:

When you show up to the start of a marathon, in an ideal situation, you will be in the best shape of your life. Your fitness is at its peak. When you combine peak fitness with the proper pre race recovery, you set yourself up for new and unusual feelings at the start of the race. What feels like easy running, might have been a steady effort run just a couple weeks ago. You can be running at a tempo pace, but convince yourself that you are really holding yourself back. I see runners make the mistake, thinking they are running easy, but discover 13, 15 or 20 miles later that they were just unaware of what to expect in those first few miles.

When you are trying to change your behavior, it is critical that you maintain a high level of self awareness. The ability to fall back into your previously established habits is easy. Where I see this most often, is early on when you are having success with a new behavior. You have established a routine to follow that allows you be successful, then you enter an environment that breaks that routine. It may be a family vacation. It could be a Thursday night happy hour with co-workers or dinner out with friends. In these situations, extreme self-awareness is important. Understand what decisions you are making and why you are making them.

2. Have objective measures.

The discussion so far has been about the inability to maintain good judgement using subjective observations. This is why it is important to define some objective measurements that allow you to monitor progress and identify success. In the marathon, this means knowing what pace is acceptable and what is just fantasy due to early race happiness. In your behavior change project, it allows you to be accountable.

When you are trying to implement a new behavior, let’s say it is adding an exercise routine, our memory of what we did and what actually happened can be misaligned. People will commonly tell me that they were successful adding exercise to their week. Then when we review what they actually did, they may have completed the routine 1 or 2 times. That may be fine if the goal was to include exercise 1 or 2 times, but more than likely the misalignment is a function of the effort it took to complete those sessions. The effort was high, which makes the recall of what actually occurred to be overstated. Whatever the goal is, make sure there’s a way to measure and track your progress.

3. Take on one challenge at a time.

Early in the marathon, it is tempting to start thinking about ‘finish times’. Most of us show up to the race with some expectation of how we want the day to finish. However, when you are running miles 2 or 3, your finish time should be the last thought in your mind. It is important to run the mile you are running. It takes discipline of thought, but successful marathoners are good at this.

As you begin a behavior change project that leads to a happier and healthier life, it is easy to think of all the habits you need to change. You may need to eat differently, exercise more, manage your stress, along with many other lifestyle changes. The desire to change all of them at once can be tempting. But, it is an approach that often leads to failure after several days or weeks. If the goal is to create a happier and healthier lifestyle, then approach it with the knowledge that it can take a lifetime to create those behaviors. When you gain this perspective, understand that you will be most successful when you work on one habit at a time. Focus on something manageable and immediate, then reassess and take on the next behavior.

The saying, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint” is an overused analogy. It is used so often that I wonder if it has any value in our every day conversations. However, as I think about all the mistakes marathon runners make during those first few miles, I see the value keeping that mantra alive. As you work through your behavior change program, maintaining the perspective that you have a lifetime to develop your ideal lifestyle, will reward you will success, happiness and health.

Stop taking zeros: A lesson from Snapchat streaks on being healthier and happier

There is something about getting your work done every single day. There is a satisfaction to know that you have been consistent. There is a sense of accomplishment when you look at your data and see a regular pattern of behavior. The reality that you are becoming a new person. The development of a desired pattern of living.

One of the new additions to my life recently was Snapchat. I was very reluctant to add a new social media to my life, however at my brother’s wedding, I witnessed that nearly all of his wife’s friends were using the app. I tried to understand the application last year because I was intrigued with the constant use of filters by several of my friends. However, I found discovery of friends to be a little challenging and intimidating, so I gave up. The one features I find most interesting, is the Snapchat streak. It’s interesting to hear people talk about the length of streaks they have with various friends. It used to amaze me to hear the length of those streaks, but not anymore. The motivational energy that streaks create is impressive and hard to deny.

The question to ask ourselves is how can we use this principle to improve our health and happiness?

A classic example of this in human behavior is with Alcoholics Anonymous. Sharing the number of days being sober is a large part of developing a new identity within the program. In terms of exercise, Gordo Byrn was one of the first individuals that I remember using the term ‘taking zeros’. It was a very useful paradigm for me to understand when I heard him talking about limiting the days he took a zero. When trying to achieve specific performance goals, it is easy to calculate training loads in a lot of complicated ways. Those methods can be useful, however for the majority of individuals that I have helped over the years, including myself, the most important metric for the long term optimization of health and happiness is limiting the days where you take a zero.

What exactly does a ‘zero’ mean?

That is an individualized answer. My answer changes often and depends on what I am currently trying to accomplish. I have had periods where taking a zero meant:

  • Not getting at least 30 minutes of running
  • Not getting outside for a walk or exercise (of any duration greater than 1 minute)
  • Not getting in a workout of any type

The key feature of your definition is to make it something where you can be successful. You want to set yourself up for long streaks. In the third example, “Not getting in a workout of any type” I allowed myself to count a set of pushups or a set of pullups. This meant that I had zero excuses for keeping the streak alive. It takes no equipment, very little time and not a lot of energy to get down and do a set up pushups.

What happens when you set your definition of ‘zero’ to something that requires skill, motivation and time is that you’ll end up breaking the streak often. Failure to keep a streak alive and developing a lack of confidence in your ability to succeed is one of the fastest ways to give up on your behavior change process. Keep it simple and succeed daily.

Here are ten streaks to consider, to help make you a happier and healthier person.

1. Start the meditation app, Calm

2. Put on your walking shoes and get outside

3. Eat a green vegetable

4. Drink 1 bottle of water

5. Lay down and close your eyes, in a room with no noise

6. Send a positive text to a friend

7. Give someone a hug

8. Do a set of body squats

9. Pick up a kettle bell

10. Write down one thing you are grateful for

By the way, I currently don’t have any streaks going on Snapchat. My username is gditsch, if you want to connect with me.

Challenge yourself: The secret to living fully as we age, along with 10 things you can try today.

I decided to go climb Black Elk Peak (formerly Harney Peak) in Custer State Park yesterday. It was a chance to celebrate the 39 years that I have been alive. An opportunity to exert some physical energy and be grateful for the health that I possess today. It was also a way to challenge myself.

One of my heroes is Susan Bradley-Cox. I am consistently inspired by her ability to help people achieve goals through the Team in Training program. I have been fortunate to coach alongside her on a couple occasions, as I help the triathletes improve their running. While I am inspired by her coaching, I am even more inspired by her desire to continually challenge herself. When I interviewed her for the Active Lexington podcast, one of the questions that I asked was what she attributed her ability to keep going, as she aged. The answer that stuck out to me was her acknowledgement that continually learning and seeking new challenges was a big factor in going strong long into her 70’s.

When I pulled into Sylvan Lake to start my hike, I anticipated a small crowd. It is after Labor Day, so many students and parents are back in school. What I found was a decent number of cars at the trailhead. My first reaction was, “Don’t worry, it is probably some of the retired folks walking around the lake.”

As I headed up trail #9, I started with a husband and wife couple, but quickly found solitude as they stopped to make equipment changes. In the loneliness of hiking, on a new trail and in a part of the country you don’t know well, I began to become lost in my thoughts. Many of those thoughts were on the environment around me. The wildfires were burning strong, the air was smokey and the sun was partially covered. Small noises off the trail made me consider the possibility of rattle snakes. I had growing anxiety over the stories locals shared of mountain lions (my absolute most feared animal). Thankfully, after an hour, those thoughts started to ease and I began to appreciate the landscape and scenery a little more.

I do not share this story to give every detail of my trip, but who I ended up sharing the adventure with. As I made my way up towards the 7,244 foot peak, the trail became more populated. It appeared that many of those cars at the trailhead had passengers that did make their way up trail #9. They just started earlier in the day and had reached higher ground. What were some defining characteristics of my fellow adventurers? Other than a group of 8th graders from Wisconsin and a young couple carrying two infants, they were individuals in their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Most of them were traveling with at least one partner, but many were in small groups of three to five. And from my observation, everyone I saw yesterday was successful in reaching the fire tower at the top of the peak.

Choosing to take a different and hopefully less travelled route back down, I headed down trail #3 towards Little Devils Tower. About half way down, I came across a team of three ladies, most likely in their late 60’s or early 70’s. While I don’t know what they were up to, I’m pretty sure they were looking watch out as each member figured out how to use nature’s facilities.

As I climbed up Little Devils Tower, the trail became less of a trail and more of a rock scramble. At one point, I came to an opening to scramble up, where a lady was standing. I quickly realized she spoke French and didn’t understand English very well. I moved on through the opening and up through several other scrambles that were moderately difficult ad created some anxiety. At the top of the climb, I found the rest of the French party. Each one was moving around the rocks with grace and confidence. Each one could have easily been my elder by 30 years.

Yesterday, I climbed to the top of Black Elk Peak and I was inspired. The inspiration came from a place that I didn’t expect. I expected to be inspired by the scenery and beauty of Custer State Park. That was definitely worth the effort and time. However, the people I met along the journey is what I will take away as inspiration. A large number of people willing to challenge themselves. To do something that allows them to continue living fully.

Ten things you can do challenge yourself today:

1. Start to learn a new language using Duolingo

2. Pick a 5k to sign up and train for

3. Learn (or relearn) how to skip or jump rope

4. Do a set of push ups

5. Find a crossword puzzle, sudoku or log onto luminosity and complete one exercise

6. Learn to do a kettle bell swing

7. Do a set of jumping jacks

8. Find an open space and do some summersaults

9. Go to a climbing wall and pay an instructor to teach you how to climb

10. Go for a walk in nature with no phone, music, wifi or cell service

Become an expert at generating self motivation

The ability to improve your self motivation is something that people often believe is not possible. Many understand motivation to be an innate trait. Due to this, we often look at other people and wonder where they get their motivation from, in both the positive and negative perspective. I will often see someone that is a parent, an athlete, successful in their occupation and still finds time to be a friend and have a social life. When I see her, I am amazed at the motivation it takes to consistently be in her shoes. I also see someone who wakes up in the morning, does nothing for 16 hours and talks about being ‘worn out’ and goes to bed.

Motivation is difficult to manufacture. Being able to generate self motivation can be very difficult if you don’t understand some basic principles. While understanding motivation can be complex, the following is at least one way to become better at generating self motivation.

In his most recent book, “Smarter, Faster, Better”, Charles Duhigg talks about one key element related to improving a person’s self motivation. The element is obtaining a sense of control.

The basic principle states that when a person doesn’t believe they have any choice and no control over their choices, then they are not likely to have self motivation. The story that drove home the point was a story about how the Marines started to change the way they trained soldiers going through bootcamp. Bootcamp is normally seen as a way to break down and rebuild a soldier, where everything is completed exactly how the drill sargent determines it to be done. To improve the training process, they began introducing choices and control into the training process. The choices were sometimes of minor importance. For example, one task assigned to the soldiers was to clean the kitchen. The soldiers were given no instructions. It seems like a very minor task, but soldiers had to decide whether they wanted to keep left overs or throw them out. They had to determine where items such as the ketchup was put away. These situations where soldiers were given the ability to make a choice and had control over what occurred started to change the way soldiers perceived themselves. These small examples grew into situations that were experienced out in various training exercises, where soldiers were deliberately given tasks that couldn’t be completed with the instructions they were given. This meant they needed to make choices of their own, controlling the outcomes.

This past year, I have thought a lot about self motivation. Specifically as it relates to my career and staying motivated. When I finished the Awesome Inc University bootcamp in November, the political landscape was changing. We had a new president which brought a lot of opinions on what the future would look like. As it was November, there were thoughts about the timing for hiring managers and why it would be January prior to companies being ready to hire. Then there was the desire to remain in the healthcare, public health and wellness market, where I already had developed myself as an expert.

What I found in conversations, was a gravitation to factors that I could not control. Here are a few quick examples:

Political: Trump is now president and is going to be repealing the Affordable Care Act, so healthcare companies are not going to take as many hiring risks in this unknown environment.

Timing: A hiring manager needs to wait until the beginning of the year prior to fully reviewing new applicants. They may also need to wait until there is more clarity on what impact Trump’s presidency will have on their business.

Location: There are very few healthcare related startups in Kentucky, especially when focused on Lexington. It may be wise to start thinking about other markets that would be more likely to be hiring than Lexington.

These conversations became quite disheartening and demotivating. As I listened to these stories and opinions long enough, it became easy to fall into a belief that I simply needed to succumb to the circumstances. Sometimes the advice would be to wait until “things got better”. As someone who prefers action, even if the action is the wrong decision, these opinions were depressing. On the days that I began to believe the storylines, I felt foolish for taking action when the suggested approach would be ‘wait for better days ahead’.

Upon reflection of this past year, in the context of Charles Duhigg’s information on self motivation, I can see how having a sense of choice and control is crucial for self motivation. The belief that your effort has some impact on the outcome is incredibly powerful.

So what should a person do in order to generate some sense of choice and control when it does not seem like there is any obvious opportunity? For this I take some inspiration from James Altucher, who shares something he calls his ‘Daily Practice’.  My interpretation of James’ daily practice routine is that every person has multiple aspects to our lives. We have our physical health, mental health, family relationships, social connectedness and career. The challenge we have is to do something each day to positively impact those areas. It would be ideal if a person could have an activity for each area, however when you are struggling to find motivation and inertia, find at least one activity that can be completed daily.

While I did not think about it previously, I have implemented elements of a daily practice over the past year, as I have searched to understand what direction my career takes me. Here are the two practices that I have found that provide me choices and a sense of control, which ultimately has allowed me to maintain an internal reserve of self motivation:

Running:

I have been very observant in 2017 to not get too caught up in following a strict training plan. In fact, the amount and type of training that I have completed over the past 9 months has not been optimized towards any end goal. That being true, I can still say without hesitation, it will be one of my most successful and rewarding years of running over the past decade. Each day I determine if I will run, what route I will run and for how long I would like to run. The only real goal I have with each effort is that I continue to maintain my health and fitness, along with ensuring I optimize my happiness by the time I stop running for the day.

Writing:

I enjoy writing. It is one thing that optimizes my happiness. It is also something I have utilized over the past 14 years to support my career ambitions. Since the very first HTML page I posted to ditschfitness.com, in 2003, I have worked at sharing ideas on health, fitness and performance through my writing. In terms of finding some choice and control, it is an activity that no one manages for me. I do not have an editor, an agent or a director of content. Each day I sit down and try to write something of value. There are days that I write 200 words that are simply mental notes. Then there are days that I am able to put down 2000 words that form the beginning of an article I want to share. On days that I am struggling to write, I either go for a run and find inspiration, or I start to edit something I wrote on a previous day. The value of the writing may be difficult to calculate in monetary terms, however it has been invaluable in terms of maintaining a sense of choice and control over my career.

Become an expert at generating self motivation:

When you do an honest self assessment that leads you to question your motivation to make a change, one of your first steps should be to find an activity that you can exert choice and control. The activity does not have to be something major, it can be something as small as the example from the Marine bootcamp, where soldiers got to choose where they put the ketchup when they cleaned the kitchen. Once you have a chosen activity, it is ideal if you can practice that sense of choice and control every single day. As Charles Duhigg shares in his book, generating self motivation is a skill that can be learned. Therefore, like anything worthwhile in life, if it provides you value and requires practice, my recommendation is to practice often.