So, I “run.”
Well, that’s how I’ve described it for the past two decades or so: “run” in quotes.
Because, who am I kidding? My “run” is slow – much more like jogging (but that sounds so ‘80s, right?). And, it often includes, well, walking. “Run” a little. Walk a little. You get the idea. But I’m moving. And somehow, I get just enough effort in there to sweat and to get the thing I most want – a dose of those feel-good exercise endorphins that upgrade mood, clear the mind, and jumpstart the creative juices. Oh, and it’s good for your health.
I’ve kept up this “running” practice – about 25 minutes, 3 to 4 days a week (sometimes less, sometimes more) – for years. However, this past winter the wheels fell off my “running” game. I’m not sure why. The cold? The dark? The flu? I didn’t power through the weather. I didn’t get on the roads – or the treadmill.
And, I’m not gonna lie: it was hard to start back up. The weather got better, but I didn’t put on my running shoes.
Finally, at the end of May, I got back out there. I walked more than I ran. But it felt good to be back at it and to sweat (I’m weird that way).
First day back, my lungs were pushing. Second day, my lungs were better, but my legs were pushing. Each passing day, the time walking decreased as I toggled back and forth between feeling my effort in my lungs or my legs.
Meanwhile, for about a year, I’ve been having this nagging sense that I need to push myself more in my workout. My “run” really wasn’t pushing my fitness or even maintaining it given the accelerating physical effects of time ticking by (aka, aging).
I figured that to push myself – to be able to run farther, faster, longer – to get in better shape, I’d probably have to get a trainer, join a running group, or sign up for a half marathon. But none of that seemed especially enticing. Yet, I couldn’t see how I could push myself out of my running rut on my own. And something in me wanted to level things up in my workout routine and my fitness.
Last month, I heard Rachel Hollis interview Robin Arzon on her podcast, Rise. Robin is a lead instructor and VP of Fitness Programming at Peloton. I loved her story and perspective. And bonus: I learned that Peloton had an app that doesn’t require purchasing the bike or treadmill. And double bonus: there are outdoor running sessions on it. Say, what?!
About 5 weeks ago, after my regular, no-push “run,” I remembered I had downloaded the Peloton app. So, I decided to listen to the beginning of one of the outdoor running sessions – just to see what it was like. A few minutes. That’s all.
I pressed start. And a few steps in, I was hooked. Before I knew it, I had run an additional 45 minutes – another 4+ miles! Holy. Freaking. Cow.
Let me be clear: running 4+ miles was absolutely, positively inconceivable to me (much less the 6+ I did that day). The last time I did that I’m sure I was in my 20s - you know, decades ago. My mind was blown. And I felt so good. Pretty sure I could have kept running…
Since that day, I’ve run with the Peloton app (and Robin) 4+ miles most every day. And, did you notice?.... I’ve dropped the quotes. As Robin says in the one of the sessions, “If you’re running with me right now, you’re a runner. Claim it.”
During these few weeks, I’ve watched my legs and lungs become stronger. I’m making progress far beyond what I thought possible, and that is downright thrilling and motivating. I’m pushing myself. I’m “flirting with the edge,” as Robin calls it. I’m proud of myself. I feel strong.
During the running sessions, Robin has you reaching for your pride with each step — the pride of accomplishment, of making the effort. This sense of pride is so visceral and invigorating as I take each step and keep going. In one of the running sessions, she said something like “With each mile, you pick up accomplishments like souvenirs.” She inspires you to run proud – “Shoulders down, chest open, head up, gaze forward, crown on….”
Why am I telling you all this? No, this is not an ad for Peloton (though get that app!). This is not a post to promote working out (well, maybe a little).
I’m telling you this because my running story got me thinking about … productivity.
Let’s face it, pride gets a bad rap. The pride I’m talking about here is not of the arrogant variety — you know, the kind of pride that is obnoxious and often just a poor cover for insecurity or low self-esteem. I’m not talking about the pride that has its roots in fear. Nope.
I’m talking about the pride that naturally bubbles up when you recognize and acknowledge your own power to take action, make a change, and create something with your own two hands… or feet. You know how when a kid makes something and comes to you so proud: “I did this!” That kind of pride.
This kind of pride feels like delight, exuberance, amazement, power, strength. This pride sings “yes!” It’s tastes like motivation. It stirs self-respect. It is rooted in responsibility – the responsibility to take action, to do your best, to try, to make an effort, to get up and do it again and again. It’s watered by true humility – to be brave, to try something, to expose yourself, to show the world (or the people around you) that you care, to play full out no matter what happens. Win. Or. Lose. This pride is alive with appreciation, determination, grit, aspiration, hope, vitality.
So how does this relate to productivity? Here are two transferrable lessons from this running story.
First, it’s important to push the edges of your skill, comfort, experience.
I often work with clients who are demotivated. They’re dialing it in. They’re just trying to get by. There’s nothing positively challenging them, inspiring them, making them work hard to achieve, pushing them to put anything on the line.
Now, when I say “work hard,” I know: Everyone is working hard. But there’s a difference between working hard because you’re busy, overstretched, overcommitted, overwhelmed, overwrought – and working hard because you’re trying to achieve something new, you’re pushing your capacity and skill, you’re after a goal.
When you work hard because you’ve decided to improve a skill, expand your capability, achieve something you’ve never done before, that’s when hard work is rewarding. That’s the hard work I’m talking about here. Choosing to stay with a goal or commitment and pushing yourself a bit beyond the known edges of where you are comfortable, or where it’s easy.
I’m not saying to push the edge in everything – just one thing. That will wake up your effort, motivation, and confidence – which will spill over into other areas.
Pushing the edge in one thing stirs this productive pride, which puts you in contact with your power. And that changes everything.
This connection to your power has compounding effects that pays big dividends in your overall performance and productivity.
So the question is: Where can you push the edge? What goal, project, skill, dream, habit - calls out to you? What are you willing to go for? Once you find it, start where you are. And build.
Second, Keep a steady focus on your accomplishments, your progress.
Acknowledge your efforts and your achievements. And, by the way, effort, in itself, is an achievement.
It’s easy to zero in on what’s not working, what you haven’t done, what you’re procrastinating on, what you haven’t achieved, where you’ve fallen short, and so on. This is basic brain science at work, specifically, a thing called Negativity Bias. Negativity Bias is the handy-dandy feature that keeps you on the alert for potential threat. It’s a kind of early warning system. Eons ago, the threat showed up as a tiger. Today, it more often shows up as a worry about what people think of us, a mistake we made, or who’s winning on Instagram.
And the culture at large only mirrors and amplifies this mind game with a focus on deficiency, weakness, not-enough-ness, lack.
Add to that, the fact that we’re subtly trained (especially women) that’s its impolite to celebrate one’s accomplishments. Just look at how people were losing their minds about the on-field celebrations of the US Women’s Soccer Team in the recent FIFA Women’s World Cup. We’ve made it unbecoming to unapologetically celebrate an effort, a victory, a success, an achievement. Better to dismiss or downplay it – and put your eyes on where you need to improve, get better, or where you’re lacking.
This negative, deficient obsession dramatically weakens performance. In fact, I believe it’s the root of unproductive or, at the extreme, toxic, work environments. When everyone is dialed into what’s missing and what’s wrong, it becomes unnecessarily hard to perform at the top of one’s game. What if everyone focused far more on their victories, progress, and accomplishments than on their deficiencies? What kind of self-propelling, motivating, productive power would that unleash? You might just find that you – and your team – are unstoppable.
Consider keeping a running list of accomplishments big and small. Look at it and add to it every day. Pat yourself on the back. Give yourself a high five. Delight in your effort and your accomplishments. Notice when you do things that are hard or a challenge. Every day, practice being proud of the effort you make. This kind of focus builds mental discipline and strength and will fuel your efforts. And remember: you’re competing with yourself. You’re besting yourself. This is about practical progress, not abstract perfection.
Push the edge. Acknowledge your effort. This is a surefire way to tap into this natural, productive pride that will keep you playing a bigger, better game.
And as a side note: my running experience reminds me of the transferrable benefits of building physical fitness.
We often treat fitness as an optional side gig – unrelated to our productivity and overall performance in our professional and personal life. And nice, if you have the time.