As In Running, So In Life
By Tom Terez -
Lessons From the Road to Fitness
On my 39th birthday, after eating two huge
pieces of my favorite pistachio cake, I decided to make a seemingly simple
"It's going to be a new me during the coming
year," I announced. "No more three pieces of cake per sitting-only one."
Everyone laughed and clapped. "Whatever you
say!" Someone passed me a third piece of cake.
"I'm going to start jogging, too," I said.
Suddenly, silence filled the room.
"Yep, I'm going to start running." Silence.
"As in jogging up and down the streets, getting in shape." More silence.
"Anyone want to join me?"
No one did, but that didn't stop me. At 5
o'clock the next morning, I woke up with the birds for my first run in five
I figured it would be easy an
inaugural 15-minute canter around a few suburban blocks. Was I ever in for a
shock. My "simple" lifestyle change quickly turned into a painful exercise in
change management, full lessons for those of us who want to achieve better
results, whether we're talking physical fitness or management vigor.
I started with a brisk walk, then speeded up
to a slow run. The first five minutes were exhilarating. The next five were
sobering. And the third five minutes were excruciating. My strides turned into
a clumsy cadence of step-step-gasp, step-step-gasp.
Three thoughts kept running through my head:
1) My bed is way better than this. 2) There must be a better way to get in
shape. 3) 1 don't have any ID, so if and when I collapse, the EMT people won't
have a clue whom to contact.
Lesson 1: Get started, no matter how much
As soon as I stopped, my mind started
messing with me.
"This running thing is way too tough," I'd
say to myself one moment. "It's no fun. It hurts. Forget it. Take up walking or
The next moment I'd be cheering myself on.
"You can do it! It's just running. And it'll get easier." Then I'd chide
myself. "Are you gonna be a quitter? Don't be a quitter. Get out and run like
Lesson 2: Expect doubt. Just don't let it win.
Two days later I was back out there, but
running like the wind? Not unless we're talking about very slow, heaving-type
winds. I went through the requisite stretching and warm-up walking, but 20
minutes into my run, I had two thoughts in mind: 1) Is it possible for the
human heart to beat so robustly that the entire organ literally bursts through
the rib cage? 2) Thank goodness I remembered to bring my ID.
After regaining my breath, I started
thinking again about change management. Rationally, I knew I had a noble goal:
to get in better shape. But what about my approach to achieving the goal? Was I
on the right track with my running?
Lesson 3: Make sure your means will
get you to the intended end.
Knowing I didn't have the answer, I called a
friend who's a health and fitness fanatic. I told her about my birthday
resolution, and she gave me firm instructions: "Twenty minutes of running when
you haven't jogged in ages? No way! Start with walking, and build from
But that's not exciting, I protested. I want
to sweat. I want to know I'm getting a decent workout.
"What you want to do is get in shape," she
said. "And you won't do that with shin splints and a cardiac incident."
The words "cardiac incident" resonated with
me, so two days later I decided to walk instead of run. I followed the same
route but it seemed so different. This time I realized that at 5 a.m., the
birds are waking up, and they're singing wonderful songs. And I noticed how the
sun rises so beautifully over a farm field near our house.
Reach out for advice and follow it.
Mindful of my friend's counsel, I kept
walking, and after a while I added a five-minute running segment. Then I
notched it up to 10 minutes, then 15, and so on. After a couple of months I
could run two miles and enjoy it and notice the birds and the sunrise along the
Lesson 5: Savor those fringe benefits of change.
Then it happened. During an especially busy
time that took me away from home for a week, I didn't run at all. When the
alarm sounded at 4:30 a.m. on Saturday, I went straight for the snooze button
and kept dribbling it until 6 o'clock, when I decided to put off my run
for one more day. The same thing happened on Sunday.
At 5 a.m. on Monday, I started my run just
fine. But 15 minutes into it, I could sense the return of the step-step-gasp,
step-step-gasp. This time, though, I didn't have visions of EMT personnel
huddling over my heap of pistachio-cake body. I turned my run into an enjoyable
walk, and two days later I mixed walking and running. Within a week I was
running at my best pace and distance ever. An improvised adjustment to my plan
made all the difference.
Lesson 6: Be judiciously flexible.
Seven months have passed since my birthday
resolution to get in shape, and I'm happy to report that my change-management
efforts are succeeding. I still flirt with the snooze alarm some mornings, and
my out-of-town work trips make it easy to postpone the day's run. But just
about every other morning, you'll find me pounding the pavement-and enjoying
it. I'm feeling great.
The change-management lessons continue to
hit home. I recently got a call from a manager who was desperate for a sounding
board. He was struggling to get employees more involved in improving their work
processes, but their apathy seemed too great.
"Our first meetings about this were so
painful," he said. "I'm not sure it is worth continuing."
He sounded a lot like I did after my first
couple of runs.
We talked about the goal of having an
engaged workforce. He explained his approach, and our conversation gave him a
few new ideas. Two weeks later he called again.
"Great news," he said. "One of our
departments has formed an improvement team, and they're on the brink of some
major breakthroughs. Two more departments are looking into doing the same."
"Sounds like you're hitting your stride," I
Tom Terez is a speaker, workshop leader,
and workplace consultant. His third book, 22 Keys to Creating a Meaningful
Workplace, has become a popular guide for thousands of improvement-minded
workplaces, and his lighthearted monthly column for Workforce magazine has
gained a loyal worldwide following.