I wanted to run for years. As a teenager I dreamt about it. Not scary dreams about running away from zombies but happy dreams about winning a race or just running. In reality running never gelled for me—until last year.
I tried running off and on in my 20s, overheated, and gave up. In my early 30s, my husband’s and my pilates instructor suggested that we sign up for a half marathon and train with her so we tried—and I quit after our first 6-mile walk left me with hip and knee pain. Brian hung in there and went on to walk/run his first half marathon that year. Last weekend he completed his sixth.
Every year he trained for and completed another half, and I sat on the sidelines cheering him on. I was beginning to think I’d never learn to run.
And then he offered to train with me, even though he’s twice as fast, even though he wants to run longer distances, just because he loves me and knew I wanted to do it. So during 2014, we trained together and I completed my first 10K.
5 Things Starting a Running Program Taught Me About Starting Anything New
1. Get support. Until I had a training partner, I didn’t run. Once I had someone else counting on me, I felt accountable to him and more accountable to myself. I wanted to show up to spend time with my partner.
Whatever change you want to make—adopting an exercise program, cultivating an artistic practice, or eating healthier—find a cheerleader, training partner, or accountability partner. They will provide the support system you need for success.
On the other hand, if you know someone in your life won’t support the changes you’re making, either don’t tell them about it or minimize your discussion about it with them. The last thing you need when you’re just starting something is a naysayer.
2. Set a schedule. It’s so easy to put off a goal when it’s not in the calendar. To change a dream or goal into reality, you need a plan of action.
My plan had two components: first, I signed up for the Giant Race so I had a deadline, and then I scheduled three training runs per week in my calendar. With the added support of a training partner, I knew I needed to get out there even when I didn’t feel like it.
To apply this point to anything else, step one is to create a concrete goal with a deadline, step two is to create a system through which you will achieve your goal, and step three is to check in regularly with your support team to let them know how you’re doing and get support when you are struggling.
3. Take it slow. I am probably the slowest runner on the planet. And I’m really a walker/jogger. What I learned this time is that, before, I was trying too hard, running too fast, and not giving myself time to acclimate to the new endeavor. I was taking an all-or-nothing approach.
Brian forced me to slow down. Instead of paying attention to covering distance, we focused on up-and-down cadences. It felt strange at first but eventually it became natural.
Applying the “take it slow” principle to anything else: If you want to write, just write. You don’t need to commit to writing the next Great American novel. Determine what you want to write and instead commit to doing it three times per week. If you want a deadline, create it around scenes or chapters or blog posts. Make your goal attainable.
4. Focus on your results, not anyone else’s. As I said before, Brian is a much faster runner than I am but even he isn’t running 3:30 marathons like his younger sister can. When you’re starting anything new, it doesn’t matter that someone you know earns $1 million per year doing what you want to do. It doesn’t matter that your sister just published a photo in National Geographic. It doesn’t matter if your neighbors think you look silly prancing down the street (as I felt sure they did when I was just starting my running program.)
What matters is where you are. If you honor that and keep going, you will get better.
One more thing about results. We only see the external results of others’ success. We miss the hours of preparation, both physical and mental, that got them there. We also don’t often see the obstacles they’ve overcome. For those reasons and more, we can’t really compare ourselves to anyone else. We’re each on our own journey.
5. Take care of yourself. There are a lot of things Brian and I do to care for ourselves before, during, and after a run. For example, to train for the 10k, I followed Jeff Galloway’s beginner training program. While running, we both use a pacing watch with a heart rate monitor (like this one) to ensure we’re in an aerobic zone instead of overtaxing ourselves. After a workout, we stretch and roll out our muscles to ensure a smooth recovery.
Taking care of yourself applies to starting anything new. Whether you’re starting a business, undertaking new responsibilities at work, or adopting a cat, make sure you carve out time to care for yourself, too—mentally, physically, and emotionally.
Did I miss anything? What have you learned about starting something new?
During March, I’ve been writing about my morning ritual, which includes writing, working with affirmations or gratitude, and yoga. Today I’m sharing more details about my easy morning yoga practice—most of which involves lying down—and a few props that can help with it.
Although I’ve practiced yoga on and off for years, I always approach it from a beginner’s mindset. For me, yoga is not about power poses or extreme flexibility. Instead it’s primarily about calming and focusing my mind, of being mindful of where I am in the moment.
My Easy Morning Yoga Practice
My favorite way to begin a morning practice is with purna yoga’s morning series. It’s perfect because it’s all done while lying down. You can literally roll right out of bed and onto the floor to get started.
YogaTeacherDebbie’s morning series video below is a bit long but I like it because it shows how she uses a strap to assist with suptapadangustasana (aka the leg stretch), as I do:
After morning series, I move on to hip opening series. PetraYoga’s video shows an advanced version, without props, which will give you something to aspire to. The movements are still simple enough to follow here. Just remember that it’s very important to listen to your body, not push yourself, follow any inward hip rotation with external rotation, and repeat the exercises on both sides of your body:
After morning and hip opening series, you can rest on your back in corpse pose and do a short meditation.
Because I usually awaken ready for the day, I don’t do exercises designed to enliven and awaken. However, if you need to get more blood flowing first thing, you could try the 5 Tibetan Rites. The series is five simple exercises designed to be done 21 times each in sequence. To get started, though, it would suffice to do each exercise only three or eight times each. Another inspirational video is below:
What You Need to Get Started with Yoga
If you’re brand new to yoga, you may now be wondering what, if any, special gear or props you need before getting started. To complete morning and hip opening series, all you need is yourself and (probably) a strap. I use the Manduka cotton yoga strap, which we have in the 10-foot length because my husband is 6’4”. If I’d been buying the strap just for me, I’d have gotten the 8’.
Another prop that can help with poses like triangle or the ending thigh stretch in hip opening series is a block. (Note: for hip opening series, you can sit on the block instead of directly on your knees, and you don’t need to lay all the way back. Instead stretch back only as far as is comfortable.)
At home, I practice yoga on a carpeted floor. For class, I take along an Aurorae mat and Brian takes his ginormous, man-sized mat. Both are thicker than typical mats to provide a little more cushion between the hard floor and our bodies.
Don’t let the idea that you need gear become a barrier to trying yoga. Really you need nothing more than yourself. And if getting out of bed is too much, you can also do some yoga poses without leaving your bed.
I hope you enjoyed my suggestions for easy morning yoga. Newbies, do you have any questions or comments? Yoginis, anything to add? Please share in the comments.
Last week, I mentioned that I often close my morning pages with affirmations. I’ve mentioned before that I work with affirmations as a personal development tool, but I didn’t explain the whys or hows. Today I’ll do just that.
I began using affirmations after reading about them in Louise Hay’s book, You Can Heal Your Life. Louise asserts that affirmations—statements intended to provide encouragement, emotional support, or motivation—can help you heal almost anything in your life, from self-esteem to cancer. Whether you agree or not, you can benefit from working with them, too.
Why I Use Affirmations
But first, why would you want to? To answer that, I’ll tell you why I use affirmations: As a child, I internalized several messages that no longer serve me, a fairly common occurrence based on my unscientific research. These messages generally involve explanations about the state of the world such as “you have to work hard to get ahead” or vague self-criticisms like “I’m not good enough.”
I work with affirmations to consciously change my inner monologue, and I’ve found them to be instrumental in changing my overall life outlook from negative to positive. My internal messages haven’t changed completely, of course. I still have moments of insecurity or negativity, particularly when I’m tired or have been around the people from whom I learned the original messages.
How to Work with Affirmations
You can use affirmations in many ways, including:
Journal with them. You can write them as a straightforward reminder to yourself, or you can delve deeper by exploring the whys behind your chosen affirmations.
Read or recite them aloud. Louise Hay recommends that you look into your eyes in a mirror while reading or reciting your chosen affirmation, to really internalize the message.
Record and listen to them each night before bed and again upon awakening. Your brain is most open to new messages when you’re transitioning between consciousness and sleep.
3 Keys to Making Affirmations Work
Whichever way you choose to work with affirmations, there are a few things that I’ve learned are critical to success in writing your affirmations.
Your affirmation must be phrased positively. Of course, you’d phrase your affirmations positively, right? Isn’t that the point? You bet it is, but watch out for sneaky ‘noes,’ ‘nots,’ and their contraction relatives, ‘don’t,’ ‘won’t,’ etc. If you want to say, “I won’t worry anymore,” try “Today, I am letting go of my worries” or for a fun rhyme, “Worry free is best for me.”
Affirmations work best when stated in the present. Which do you think has more power? “I will love and approve of myself more,” or “I love and approve of myself right now, just as I am.” In the first, the point of power is in the future, which may never come. In the second, you’re claiming your self-love now, in the moment. That is where your best work is done.
Some part of you has to believe the affirmation. Your brain has to have some kernel of truth to latch onto and process; if you try to assert something you don’t believe at all, the message will pass right through your mind. For example, if I told myself, “You look like a supermodel today,” I doubt I’d get through the word supermodel without rolling my eyes. Instead, to validate my physical appearance, I would choose something like, “I love my body. It helps me accomplish amazing things every day.”
I’ve worked with many different affirmations over the years. Some of my long-term favorites, many of which were inspired by Louise Hay’s book, are:
I love and approve of myself just as I am.
I take full responsibility for my happiness and productivity.
Do you have a routine you follow first thing in the morning? My morning practice is ever evolving but usually involves writing and some form of exercise (either simple yoga poses and stretching or a walk).
I’ve kept a journal for most of my life. Some years I wrote regularly; others I’d go months with nary a note. After reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way in 2010, I adopted her practice of morning pages, three stream-of-conscious handwritten pages.
Five to seven days per week, as soon as I awaken, I sit up, grab my composition book, and put pen to paper. Some days I write all three pages, sometimes I don’t. It depends on my available time and what I have to say. Morning pages fill the purpose of keeping a journal for me, providing daily insight into what I’m thinking.
I’ve experimented with writing morning pages later but I believe there’s something special about downloading your thoughts immediately upon awakening, before you’ve engaged in other activities. My pages never flow as well after I check email or start a conversation with my husband. Later it can be like pulling teeth to hear my inner voice.
My morning pages capture the monologue of my mind, the complaints, concerns, and considerations of the moment. They tell me how I’m feeling and what, if anything, is stressing me out—they’re my personal barometer.
I write because often we can’t verbalize what we’re feeling or we know that we shouldn’t give voice to what we’re thinking if we want to maintain healthy relationships. And, frankly, many of our thoughts aren’t fit for public consumption anyway.
Morning pages give me a safe place to record my thoughts as well as a place to return to for reflection, when I’m ready to re-read what I’ve written and determine if it is true and fair and helpful.
I’ve used my morning pages to reflect on why I am or am not doing something, on how to approach a thorny situation, and I have even written a difficult letter within them.
Often new ideas come to me while I’m writing, either in the form of projects to undertake, blog posts to write, or realizations about my life.
As I close my morning pages each day, I take a few moments for gratitude or affirmations, writing what I’m most thankful for in that moment or some inspiration to start my day.
I’ve learned a lot about myself over the years from journaling and morning pages. Having a morning writing practice makes me a more mindful person.
If you think it will help you, too, it’s very easy to start. All you need is a pen, notebook, and 10-20 minutes of time for yourself.
Do you keep morning pages? If not, what helps you practice mindfulness?
After writing about ease and the limits of having a fixed mindset, I realized I had a little bit more to say about fixed vs growth mindsets, particularly that you don’t necessarily have the same mindset across all of your belief systems. More on that in a minute.
First, to recap, “In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb.
“In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it,” Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck, PhD, explains.
To extrapolate a fixed mindset beyond intelligence:
Athletes with fixed mindsets tend to practice less and rely on their innate talent more,
People who believe personality traits are fixed may believe that a relationship must be perfect or it’s irreparably broken, and
Business leaders with fixed mindsets tend to trust their own experience and knowledge instead of asking questions and seeking solutions from colleagues and subordinates.
Damning, isn’t it? Yet the worst finding is that, when people with a fixed mindset fail, they tend to give up completely, become embittered, and blame everyone else instead of picking themselves up, getting back in the saddle, and exploring a new path.
Therefore I was gratified to discover, during my read through Dweck’s book, that I had already cultivated a growth mindset in some areas.
Dweck says this is true for a lot of people. Even though we may have a fixed mindset about our intellect or sports ability doesn’t mean we couldn’t also think people change in their interpersonal relationships, for example.
I think this is important because it helps those of us who may tend toward a fixed mindset in one or more areas adopt a growth-minded orientation overall by recognizing and developing areas we’re already trending that way. Some of my growth-minded beliefs relate to:
Personal Development: One of my strongest beliefs is that we all continue learning, changing, and growing over our lives. In fact, it was by taking responsibility for my own role in the demise of a six-year relationship that I was able to prepare myself to meet and accept the love of my life, to whom I’ve been happily married for almost 10 years now.
Relationships: Because they’re created from individuals, relationships also must grow and change and, as a result, relationships require work. If I had a fixed mindset in this area, I might have thrown away my marriage when we met some hurdles instead of working to improve our communication and get back on the same page.
Health: While I am not a natural athlete, I have felt drawn to jogging for more than 20 years, so I undertook a run/walk training program last year to complete my first 10k. I loved it!
Business: When I was asked to take over a friend’s business in 2012, I first talked with every constituent to formulate a plan instead of assuming I knew how to fix everything right off the bat. I focused on the team and building consensus versus acting as a lone wolf, which is how leaders with fixed mindsets tend to do it.
Intelligence: Now that I know about fixed vs growth mindsets and that my intelligence isn’t fixed, I’ve also started training my brain on Lumosity. It’s fun and, according to my upwardly trending LPI, I’m getting smarter every day.
Are there areas where you can admit to having a fixed mindset? After reading this post, do you have any new ideas to begin developing a growth mindset in that area? Tell me about it in the comments.