I despise running! At least, I used to hate running. When people told me they were training for a triathlon or marathon I used to think, “Isn’t that why we invented cars?” I had a friend that would tell me she would go to the mountain trails and she loved having that time to clear her head and think. I always responded to her by asking, “Wouldn’t it be even better just to go sit in the mountains and think?”
Needless to say, running was something I only did if a bear or some other snarling beast was salivating and chasing me. Even then I might stop and ask them if we could work something out before I took off running.
A few years ago, after I finished my master’s degree, I had let myself go a little in my physical fitness and decided it was time to do something about it. After setting some goals regarding my nutrition and fitness I realized that I had little in the way of resources when it came to exercising. We didn’t want to pay for a local gym membership or home workout equipment. My wife looked at me as I tried to weasel my way out of getting back in shape and said, “You could always run.” “Oh no,” I thought. She was right. There was no getting out of it.
I made the commitment! I would run 3 days a week.
The first morning I was set to run seemed so much earlier the mornings before. The air felt heavy and cold in my lungs. After about two hundred yards I sounded like a cat coughing up a hairball. I could barely breathe. I arrived home after my victorious one mile run and almost collapsed. The next morning, I woke and as I stepped out of bed, I felt pain in my calf muscles and told my wife I was sure it equal to the pain of child birth. Looking back, that was not the right thing to say to get sympathy from my wife.
Regardless of my virtual labor pains in my legs that first week, I kept on going. The first month of running, I must say, was not pleasant. There was not one day that I woke with a burning desire to get up and run, but I did it anyway.
After that first month was over and the pain and discomfort had subsided, I experienced something that I didn’t know I would experience. I liked it! I actually enjoyed my morning run. I noticed my lungs were not burning, my pace was faster and more even than it had been. I was thinking clearly and felt better after my run than before my run. Over the next couple months I set new running goals and found myself coming back from my runs with new ideas and greater fitness than I’d experienced in years.
One day while I was out running along the beautiful snake river, I had the following three insights run through my mind over and over and realized that they did not just apply to running and fitness but to parenting, and all areas of my life.
3 Parenting Truths
1. I can do HARD things.
I looked back on the first month and recognized the power of will we have as human beings to do hard, valuable things even when we don’t want to. It wasn’t just sheer will power. It was also the power of making a plan and putting things in place to help us manage decisions that we know are positive and promote growth but are difficult. Running was symbolic as well as a physical evidence that I was capable of hard things. The first day I ran, I suffered through a slow, mile long run but about a month later I was running about four miles comfortably. I showed myself that I was more capable than I thought I was.
I realized that this same power of will could be utilized in my parenting. I could set plans with my children, be more patient and be more present when I am with them. It can be difficult to keep from yelling when your children are arguing and teasing each other again, or to go out and play in the yard when your favorite show is on TV or you are busy on your electronic device. Whatever parenting task is most difficult for you just remember: we can do hard things.
2. Satisfaction and Results come after we have begun, not before.
We rarely feel like doing the things that are most beneficial before we get started. There were few mornings that I felt like running when I woke up, but as I started to run and when I returned from my runs, I felt exhilaration, satisfaction and accomplishment. Even though we can anticipate the benefits of positive proactive behavior, there is something inside us that says, “don’t do it, it’s not worth it.” But that is a lie and if we are patient, the results and benefits always come! I never wanted to start but always felt good after I started. I’ve found that most good habits are this way while most bad habits are the opposite; we crave it before, but feel terrible about it after we have started.
Sometimes we don’t feel like reading one more story to our pleading child but remember that the feeling of love and awe comes after we’ve started reading and after when they snuggle up and softly say, “Thank you Mommy or Daddy.” It’s always worth investing a little more. It’s always worth it!
3. Consistency brings results.
I found with my running that my ability to run faster, longer distances and my weight all changed very gradually over time. The change was almost unnoticeable day to day but if I looked back at my progress over two or three months, the progress was incredible.
Issues of discipline and relationship with our kids work off of this same principle as well. We don’t wake one morning with amazing love or insurmountable hatred, it happens over time. One interaction or day will not establish or ruin a relationship but a majority of days over ten years can have a significant effect on the relationship. Consistency drives our results.
When I have counseling clients that are struggling to control their temper or follow through with personal or relational goals or promises, I often encourage them to take on a homework exercise. I encourage them to select one small thing that they know would be good for them and they would like to get the benefits from but have struggled to actually accomplish. I help them establish a plan to do it every day, no matter what, whether they want to or not for one week. I encourage them to look for and remind themselves of the three things above throughout the week.
Doing this exercise can help to improve our own personal discipline and enable us to improve in other areas of our lives that require continuous personal awareness and effort. Parenting and running are not that different after all.
Question: What will you do this week to stretch yourself and apply these 3 principles?
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