It’s a good thing that this cold of a day fell on the 3rd of January. I would have been far less inclined to actually take a run today had it been the end of February. Gosh darn those pesky New Year’s Resolutions, right?
At any rate, it happened. Today at minus 25 (and more with the wind chill…) I headed out for a casual evening run in our lovely nation’s capital. But before I get to the face-freeze which I subjected myself to, I think it’s important not to skirt the issue of resolutions, since I’m am on the topic of NY’s.
I don't think that New Year’s resolutions are always a negative thing. Generally, they mean that you are facing something you would like to see changed in your life, and this is good… I’m a big supporter of self-improvement (case and point, last week I committed myself to immediately throw out socks with holes rather then curse everytime I spend a day wearing one.) But often times I find that you/ I/ we want to make a resolution to change or become better at something because we see that particular "thing" as a negative. Thoughts of “I’m too fat” “I’m boring” “I’m too this… to that” act as motivation as opposed to the positive flip side of all those statements which could be:
“I want to change this, because I want it, not because I care about how people see me, or how I want people to see me, but because I genuinely think this change is going to make me feel better until we reach next year’s count down.”
In the same way that we feel compelled to stick to resolutions for the “negative” reasons, a common feeling often motivates me to run, which now that I write it down seems kind of sad. I’ve heard stories before that make me think I’m not alone in this and it turns out negative motivators are behind a lot of professional sports success stories. The Michael Jordan example is a good one…. The famous story of how he didn’t make his high school basketball team. The discouragement only encouraged him to prove himself even more. Or take for example, the Tiger Woods story. Tiger, who was once the most successful golfer in the world, was led by a strict and fanatically devoted father. Andre Agassi is another story of the same; he hates his father for the years of strict torment he was put through, all in the name of becoming the best.
Some people might argue that at the heart of these examples is merely a competitive instinct without which, they would never have been the best. This is a completely valid point that has nothing to do with what I’m getting at here. Success aside, these athletes have defined themselves through their desire to live up to expectations of other people in their lives. They were the best in their field at one point or another, but now, what do they define themselves by? Are they now solely defined as sports legends due to their own projection of other people’s expectations?
My story as a runner is driven by similar negative feelings. Not that I was ever of high caliber – I’ve just always been a runner. And I know a good part of me is driven by proving myself. To this day when I race, I still envision my “track coach” who when I was 10 (quotations because when you are that young it’s more like “running around a soccer field” coach), had no idea that I was capable of winning. Yes I'm very aware that it sounds a tad obsessive to hold onto something like that for that long. This is a pretty specific example, but many times it isn't so specific... it is just aimed at proving something to that abstract space that tends to put so much pressure on us.
The point of this entire digression being: Now, in the middle of winter, when it’s minus 25 and I’m running outside, I know there isn’t anyone I’m doing it for but myself.
I’m thinking about this in the context of New Year’s resolutions… whether athletic or not. Will it help you stick with it? Will it make you define yourself through other people’s standards? Or are you creating false standards for yourself that don’t really help you make changes for the better? It's rather easy to have negative feelings to make you perform well (because you want to prove to others that you can succeed). What's harder is maintaining a hold on the positive feelings.
The positive motivators are the feelings that just make you do things just because; these are the feelings that really drive you of your own volition. They are the ones that might come off as crazy to others… but in your own mind, what you are doing makes perfect sense to yourself.
This is what hit me today as I laced up my shoes and put on a million layers to face the cold... as far as I’m concerned it’s crazy to run when it’s this cold out. So cold, that I couldn’t have possibly been doing it for anyone but myself.
And that’s the point. This year: Just run.