Running From Demons

After ten miles of constant pounding, left foot, then right foot, heavy breaths, aggressive sun, and swollen ankles I set a goal. I was three miles short of finishing a half-marathon, and I had just been passed by a larger-set woman wearing an intensely pro-life shirt. She wanted us all to know she was running for all the unborn fetuses killed by everyone who did not share her beliefs. I decided I wouldn’t let her finish ahead of me, since I didn’t want to read her shirt anymore. I took off, and by the end of the race, with a pained knee and hip, beat her by a couple minutes across the finish line.

Part of this short anecdote brings that sense of cheer, of finding a target or a demon to run from (or past), and pushing through pain across a finish line. However, part of the story is this negative pattern that humans have where we create external demons and in fleeing from or pursuing them cause ourselves harm. This could be pulling a series of all-nighters to finish a project, or missing your son’s baseball game for that important business meeting to close a big deal.

We play this internal game where we forget our initial goals as time progresses and a new goal might be possible. We pretend this is okay, we justify. My goal was to simply finish the race and not be in pain, I wanted to be able to show my girlfriend around Chicago for the weekend afterwards which would mean a substantial amount of walking. Both of the last two 13 mile plus races I’d run I was injured by the end. The last race I couldn’t walk for over a week as my knee healed.

Ten miles into the race I felt tired, I was a little sore, but my knee was fine. My pace was slow and steady. My goal was to finish, not with a specified time, not ahead of anyone, but simply to cross the line and still be healthy. Ten miles in, I was accomplishing this goal. Then my goal changed. Sure, I finished ten minutes faster than I would’ve otherwise. I had a lot of “juice” left in the tank and would have either way. But the point, and my goal wasn’t to go fast. It was just SO hard to not let myself try to go faster.

Once I had my demon to chase, going faster became automatic. I didn’t even have an internal debate about this, I just went. At the end of the race and for a couple days after my knee was sore, I limped some and had difficulty going up and down stairs. Was it worth it? No.

Why do we change our minds on goals in the moment and hurt ourselves to achieve a new temporary goal? I’d set this goal months ago. I’d suffered a broken ankle a year ago and knew this wasn’t going to be a fast race, it was about finishing and not being hurt.

It’s amazing to watch as the mind plays tricks on you to accomplish an ego-related goal in the moment. When you notice this happen, take a breath. Remind yourself of the real goal. Write it down on your hand, or some paper, or your laptop or your shoe.

Don’t let the tendency to believe someone imaginary can judge you, or something inconsequential is more important now that the situation is actually happening. Remember your initial goal, especially if it was set over time and came from a place of reason. In the middle of a passionate exchange reason is often the furthest from the mind.

3 Reasons Your To-Dos Suck

Do you have a perfect system for tracking your life?

Do you GTD? Do you RPM? Do you time-micro-macro-plan-attack-attempt-morning-evening-monthly-checkin?

I bet you’re doing it wrong.

If you consider your current system perfect, stop reading this article now. If instead you want a few crucial tips then read on.

1) You don’t have a one-stop shop.

You MUST have one central place you keep track of ANY new thing you want to add to your life that needs to get done. Stumble across a blog post to read? Add it. Stumble across a new musician to check out? Add it. Want to check out that new restaurant, or hang out with Emily next week, or call Grandma next month? Add them.

Most people do not have one central place from which they can delegate. This could be a little notebook you keep with you. It could be Clear, or Wunderlist, or Omnifocus, or any other task management system. But you need ONE and only one master place to start. The one I’ve used the most is actually gmail – I simply sent myself an email with the task in the title for years. I still believe this is the best solution for me, but find what works for you. Sticky notes are OK but only if you take them with you EVERYWHERE (even to bed). [edit: I’ve been testing using Wunderlist for shared lists and Trello as my gathering place for books, courses, music, etc.]

2) You try to remember too much.

I often see people forgetting things, or places, or people they intended to check in on. They blame stress, being too busy, having bad habits, or a whole host of other external sources. I will happily point you down research lane if you want to understand more, but basically our brains are HORRIBLE task management, remembrant computers. They are designed for present-moment thinking. Think of Eckhart Tolle’s Power of Now, or Tony Robbins Awaken the Giant Within. Our brains get fired up when we are in flow, are in an action state, it’s how we as humans are wired. This is entirely different from the future-imagining-what-do-I-need-for-that-meeting-tomorrow mindsets.

I often ask my girlfriend to remember or remind of things in the moment when I don’t have something to write handy. Maybe I’m driving, or in the shower, or naked for other reasons…Asking a second brain to remember can help, but it’s still a flawed system. Don’t fight against biology. Track everything that you think you may want to do, somewhere, and write notes in the moment so you aren’t trying to remember things like groceries, or uncle Bud’s Birthday.

3) You are trying to do TOO MUCH in the present moment.

I believe we all fall into this trap. I am searching for someone who has this completely figured out, and I would love to buy them a drink. How many browser tabs do you have open right now? How many browser windows filled with tabs? How many emails in your to-respond section? How many books in your to-read list? Or by your bed? How many magazines to read, songs to absorb, new restaurants to try? We all want to do too much right now and it pulls us in a million different directions.

We end up doing less than we’d like, regardless of our intentions. This isn’t necessarily bad. But we make it into something that causes us stress. We don’t know whether to read right now, or eat out, or check out our old favorite band’s new album. And we worry we are making the wrong choice in every moment.

Not only is this unhealthy, but it can cause a whole lot of stress. I challenge you to close most of your browser windows, only keep one open. Try using one or two tabs at a time and closing each one upon reading. If it’s something you don’t want or need to spend the time on right now, close it and don’t bookmark. Let go of many of the items on your to-read, to-listen, to-eat lists. Enjoy the spontenaity and space of letting new things into your life as the come up. I bet you will get a book recommendation this upcoming week that sounds interesting, or you will stumble across a course or article that looks fun. Would you rather add those to the end of a multipage list? Or have the space in your life to let this interesting journey in sooner.

Let me know how this process goes for you, what your challenges are and how you are able to overcome them!