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As In Running, So In Life
Lessons From the Road to Fitness

By Tom Terez - Workforce

On my 39th birthday, after eating two huge pieces of my favorite pistachio cake, I decided to make a seemingly simple lifestyle change.

"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 years.

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 it hurts.

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 checkers."

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 the wind!"
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 there."

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.
Lesson 4: 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 way.
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 said.

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.

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