It has been nine years since I started running long distances, and five since I took up CrossFit. When I look back on photos from before, the physical changes are sometimes not very apparent. Yes, I have toned up, I have slightly better posture. But the bigger changes have been in my mindset.
I know, I know, this might sound like one of those preachy things: How running changes the way you look at life etc. Or that those who struggle for their goals, always achieve them. But trust me, many of these fitness learnings seamlessly work as life lessons. Here are a few I’ve learnt over the years, and some of them were really brought home to me this year.
Follow the 80-20 rule: This rule came to me from my friend giving me diet advice. The idea is to not be strict about your healthy eating plans. Because whenever I try to do a 100% clean eating month, I give up by the second week. Instead, I was asked to keep 80% of my meals clean—home cooked regular food. And the rest 20% could be the junk that I craved. So if I ate home food through the week, I could eat out on weekends. Or if I ate good, nutritious meals for most meals, I wouldn’t mind ordering a plate of greasy biryani for dinner.
But this rule can be applied to almost everything in life. Your exams are knocking but you also want to go out and hang out with friends? There is a work meeting you need to prepare for, but there is also the new Spiderman movie you have been dying to watch? Try this. As long as 80% of your effort goes into the hard work, the rest 20% can be spent on fun stuff. If you are making a learning plan, put 80% of it on things that challenge you but will probably help you grow professionally. And 20% of it on fun stuff you want to learn for the sake of it. This gives you the break you need and yet makes the goals achievable.
Set small targets: For CrossFit, I have been trying to learn to do double-unders—basically a skipping technique where every time you jump, the skipping rope goes under you twice. I still cannot do it well enough to string several together. But my coach explained that I need to break this down. First try to get consistently high jumps and the rhythm, even if it’s without a skipping rope. So I did this for a few weeks. Next try to get a double-under in between two normal jumps (single-unders). This is where I am right now, and with practice I hope to get to consecutive double-unders.
This same practice can be applied to life goals as well. You want to be regular at the gym in the New Year? Awesome. Start by going thrice a week. You want to finish that really fat book that has been staring at you from the shelf for years? Start with a page every night before going to bed. Smaller goals mean better chances of you achieving them. And once you have achieved the first goal, you make the next one.
Pace yourself: I love long workouts. The ones which go on for 40-50 minutes and leaves everyone wondering how come it isn’t over yet! I think I do better in them, compared to the shorter workouts which require you to put in a lot of effort and leave you breathless in five minutes flat. The reason is that I pace myself. I have never been able to push too much. So I decide my effort on the basis of the duration of the workout. Similarly for long runs, my pace remains steady.
The same pacing strategy applies to almost everything in life. Burning out while working in your thirties will not be great if you cannot enjoy the life you are working for. If there is a project due, you can’t expect to chill for five days, and then suddenly turn up a perfect project on the sixth day (we wish that happened though)! Learn to pace yourself. Make a plan, know how much is achievable and how much work you will need to put in for that.
Consistency is key: We have heard this so much that it probably sounds like a joke. But this is true, especially right now. During these super cold mornings in Delhi, I do not want to get out of my house to go for a run. And if I was only depending on being motivated by friends, then I probably would not either. But the only way to reach my running goal for the next year is to do it regularly. Show up, as they say. I know it sounds silly when I say I don’t give myself a choice, but it works for me. Being at it, for days and weeks and months at an end is the only way I can see some results.
Just like in running, there are no shortcuts for our other goals in life. If I want to really learn something well, say a new language, or a musical instrument, or how to be a better public speaker, the only way is to keep trying it out. Somedays would be terrible, somedays I would probably be totally off key or forget words while translating a sentence. But sooner or later, it will get better if I keep trying. These have been my learnings from my workouts and runs. If you look at your routine, I am sure you will find lessons in them too.