I find running, challenging! I am on a fitness regimen guided by my coach, which includes cycling, swimming, strength training and walking. I am to add running when I feel fit to do so. My coach never pushes anything onto someone if one doesn’t feel ready and always insists on keeping the long-term goal in mind. So running is something that I want to add to my routine. And I am not talking about marathon goals here, but just simple runs.
So I set myself modest target once a week. On days I plan to run, my preparation starts night before as I go to bed, so my mind starts working on me even when I am asleep. However much I am prepared, when I start running, in a couple of minutes I feel totally breathless. My face feels warm, I can feel the heat escaping from my ears, I feel like my feet just fall wherever they can. And I start wondering why I am putting myself through this, while I can just cycle or swim which is much more enjoyable. My mind starts telling me to scale down my target. I have to fight it and have to focus all my energies to stay on course. I keep looking at the distance I have covered and slowly somewhere things start feeling a little bit better. And that’s around the time I have reached the first one-third mark of my target.
Something starts to change at that time. My breathing is much more even, I start enjoying the cool wind on my face, the heart doesn’t feel like it will pound and explode, my foot fall is much better. I feel certain lightness physically and mentally and suddenly feel hopeful that I can actually achieve the target I set out to. And I stop checking the distance covered that often, and when I do, I am suddenly at the next one-third mark of the target I set out with.
After that the focus shifts to finishing my run. My mind starts thinking about rest of the day ahead of me- what I need to eat, planning my to do list for the day etc. Though I start feeling a little bit of fatigue, my mind remains calm and I am not in a rush. And there is a small sense of accomplishment when I finish my run.
I seem to go through three stages of emotions during running. When I was reflecting on this, I realized that in any challenging activity there seems to be a pattern of “One third-One Third-One Third”. When I am working on a complicated assignment, the first one third of it is difficult. I wonder if it is worth taking on, if we are trying to chew more than we can. I am overwhelmed by the number of things to think through, and I get up and walk around quite a few times to refocus my energies. But as I start organizing things, somewhere at the first one third mark the thoughts start to flow well. I get, really creative. I am uplifted by the possibilities and I am actually excited by the new work. The next one third then becomes about laying out the details and coming up with the next steps.
This “one third-one third-one third” seems to be a pattern in nature. We talk about pregnancy in terms of trimester. And anyone who has been pregnant knows that the first trimester is the toughest. The nausea, the hormonal changes, the beginning of the visits to the gynecologist, the curiosity of everyone in the family- all of it is overwhelming. It is also considered the most fragile phase. It is the second trimester that is more relaxed. One actually enjoys being pregnant and starts feeling the presence of the baby inside. The third trimester is a combination of anticipation of the baby’s arrival and planning for the next steps once the baby arrives.
I have seen this pattern of “one third-one third-one third” with my clients too. When we start on a transformation program, they initiate 90-day strategic projects towards the transformation objectives. The first 30 days are the toughest for all of the project teams. The tasks seem overwhelming, there is internal resistance, there is also some chaos, too many unanswered questions and the clients are tempted to scale down their ambition. At this stage, we keep edging them to focus on the task at hand, and not to lose sight of their 30 day mark. When the first 30 day milestone is hit, the team gets energized and there is a creative flow of ideas. They explore deeper aspects of the project and a sense of conviction, that they can achieve what they started on, is experienced by all. By the last 30 days, the teams are in high execution mode and are already thinking about the next 90-day projects.
I realize that anytime there is a challenging task ahead, it is important to stay on course the first one third of the way. The key at this stage is the “self-talk”. I have to watch what I say to myself, resist the temptation to scale down, keep the long -term goal in mind and plough through. I remind myself that in experiencing the challenge, my body is preparing itself to successfully complete the entire task.
The tough first one third is nature’s way to prepare us to break through the challenge. Like in running, we feel the lungs expanding and the heart rate rising, feet going here and there, but soon we settle into a rhythm that is energizing and uplifting. In project teams through the phase of storming and chaos, teamwork begins to flow. When we choose to accept the realities of the first one third and stay on course, invisible forces work together. And we begin to experience a new sense of power and energy, not available to us before.