When the Chicago Marathon fell on by birthday of 10/10 this year, I was thankful that running a real marathon was not on my bucket list of desired achievements, and I could just relax and hang. Running 26 miles sounded really hard, really long and not very enjoyable. While I’m in awe of people who run marathons, I’m extremely grateful not to be one of them. Unlike my friend, Mike Chu, who is a serial marathoner. He’s done 19 marathons in his life, and he wants to do at least 20! Yes, Mike is a high achiever…sound familiar?
What Marathons & Big Life Events have in Common
Given how daunting marathons seem to me, it’s not surprising that I felt like I had unwillingly entered a marathon when I went through my heatlth crisis and cancer recovery treatment 10 years ago. I told people, “it’s a marathon, not a sprint”. To me, they both seemed to share many of the same qualities:
- Needing to show up rain or shine, whether you felt like it or not
- Experiencing pain and fear and withstanding it
- Not seeing the finish line, and staying motivating to keep going anyway
While cancer treatment wasn’t something I chose, I realized that there are many big audacious goals I do choose that share those same qualities of being really challenging, not always enjoyable, and having a very long finish line – like building a new business in my 50’s, publishing my book, speaking in front of thousands of people, doing a TED talk! Everyone chooses their own marathons, or they are chosen for us. Either way, they require bucketloads of resilience and motivation.
Even our Sprints can shift into Marathons
Many high performing professionals, like me, sprinted through periods of their career, only to find ourselves on a marathon as we strived for that bigger promotion, the C-suite, the next big audacious goal. High achievers are also notorious for constantly raising the bar, which results in the ‘finish line feeling’ being even more elusive. So, clearly, we need abundant resilience and motivation to stay strong through the race.
Motivation matters, because the marathons of our lives can be MUCH LONGER than 26 miles...I’ve exceeded 26 years in my corporate career, my marriage, and I’m nearly there in parenting too, although there is no finish line on that one. Even endeavors that start as a sprint may become marathons, like writing my book which I thought would be a one year sprint and is evolved into a much longer timeframe, as I realized the experience of the pandemic was important to the theme of “Waking Up on the Right Side of Wrong”.
Disruptive Sprints Require Even More Mental Fitness
With the global pandemic, leaders have needed to build their resilience muscles even more, as they adapt through ongoing crisis and uncertainty, pivot their business or career, move to a new place or new company and start again. Unfortunately, they’re also operating without a clear training manual for these grueling marathons or clear milestone markers to show the progress thus far. So what do we do?
How do we sustain our motivation through the marathons we want (career, family, passion pursuits) and those we don’t (i.e. the global pandemic, health crisis)? In the complex and uncertain world in which we live and work, the finish lines keep moving further out. Building mental fitness is now critical to help foster the motivation, resilience and mindset we need to realize success at each step.
Build more mental fitness with the 4P’s: Perspective, Purpose, People and Pacing
Changing Your Perspective Changes Everything
I asked marathon Mike how he keeps his motivation going until the 26 mile finish line. He said, “I keep telling myself how far I’ve come already.”
Acknowledge and Celebrate Interim Milestones
Perspective is really helpful to keep motivation momentum in the marathon of work and life, especially when there aren’t clear interim milestones to celebrate. We celebrate the big promotion, but do we even acknowledge and celebrate where we are now and how far we’ve come? Or how about the important milestone of voicing to your boss that you are ready for the big promotion, even if you haven’t gotten it yet? Do we celebrate when you say “no” to a new client or project because you know you and/or your team are too overworked and overstressed to take on more projects right now? I was speaking to someone recently in new business who had huge challenges during the pandemic. Tracking success based on new business wins wasn’t motivating, but reframing success as relationship building could be.
One of my clients is the head of a consulting firm who has learned to say ‘no’ to clients who aren’t ideal, which gives them more time to spend on the clients and work that are aligned. This is cause for celebration! When we learn to say ‘no’ to what isn’t good for us, we can say ‘yes’ to what is. Applaud yourself for how far you’ve come. You’ll add significant deposits to your resilience and motivation banks.
Reframe Your Mindset
Your values are also a great source of perspective and fuel to keep you motivated. For example, one of my big values is ‘learning’. So instead of saying “I can’t celebrate until I reach the finish line”, I tap into my values and say, “I celebrate what I’m learning along the way”. This perspective mindset shift helps me feel achievement even on the many days where I haven’t hit the “big milestone”, such as launching a new program or publishing my book. Tying your celebration to what you value feeds a true sense of accomplishment and pride, inside and out.
Pro-Tip #1 to Fire up your Mind: Ask yourself: How can I reframe an interim milestone as successful, so I can celebrate more often?
Anchor to your Big Purpose
As Freidrich Nietzsche said, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” Whether it’s our career, partnerships, parenting, overcoming crisis, these big marathons of life take courage and perseverance, so it’s imperative we know our BIG WHY.
Make Your Big Why even Bigger
When I was getting poked and prodded with needles during my cancer recovery, I could handle it because I knew it was all part of my road to recovery. And while I wanted to be healthy again for me, I had an even bigger WHY: to be part of my daughter’s lives – and their children’s lives -for years to come.
Recover from Failure Faster
As I’ve been reinventing my career as a coach and leadership trainer, I have been on such a steep learning curve that I often feel like I’m climbing up the side of a mountain without a rope. When I fall, and I’ve fallen many times, I keep coming back to my big WHY for what I do now: to inspire myself and others to live to our optimal potential. Growth only happens when we’re learning, and learning happens in those moments when we fail and begin again. Now I find ways to celebrate my growth, such as facing my fear or embracing failure as learning what NOT to do next time (lots of opportunity to do this, just like Edison!]. Looked at it this way, I can hold failure more lightly, because everything is fodder for learning for me and my clients.
Move Past Fear
When I remind myself that everything is an opportunity to learn, it allows me to move forward past my fear. Fear is there to protect us, but it more often keeps us from moving. Knowing our big WHY, and our values, we can stay afloat even when it gets really bumpy out there. So I lean into my big purpose and my values of learning, love and meaningful connection to foster my resilience and keep my motivation going.
Pro-tip #2 to Fire up your Mind: What are your top 3-5 values? How are you aligned with those values in the choices and challenges you face now?
Power Through with People
To prepare for a marathon, one must have a proven training process, show up each day and track your progress, and maintain momentum and mindset through the race. People can make a huge difference to our success. Marathon runners need a community of support – expert guidance to inspire and train well, running buddies to keep them accountable, understanding of family and friends. During the race, Mike said that the other runners and supporters gave him energy to keep going.
Higher Success Rate with Accountability
While many of us haven’t run 19 marathons, I can relate to the energy I get in a workout class, where I push myself harder than if I were to work out alone. Or the feeling of working round the clock during the financial crisis of 2008 and knowing I was surrounded and supported by my colleagues. Communities of support are proven sources of strength and inspiration as we navigate the marathons of balancing work and family. Research also shows that your likelihood of success in establishing new, positive habits increases by 500% when you partner with an accountability group, compared to going it alone. The combination of energy, trust and accountability (not wanting to fail the tribe) all help us more successfully reach the finish line.
When you’re celebrating those interim milestones, amplify your celebration with people. Early on, after I beat cancer in 2011, I celebrated annually on the date of my surgery when the malignant cancer was gone. I loved being able to express gratitude for my recovery by celebrating with my friends and family. Yet, after a few years, I didn’t plan anything and let it slip away. In 2018, I decided “no more”. I threw a party on my b-day to celebrate my life and my cancer free anniversary. This year, I celebrated by sharing “My 10 Gifts I got from Cancer” (tapping into my love of learning) and celebrating with colleagues, family and friends virtually (tapping into my value of meaningful connection). I was blown away by the support and compassion I received, just when I needed it,
Pro-Tip #3 to Fire up your Mind: If you are stuck and feeling the dip in motivation, talk to someone. Share your feelings with a friend or colleague, get advice from a mentor, find an accountability buddy, or hire a coach to support you moving forward productively
Set a Sustainable Pace
When you’re in a sprint, like a new product launch, or a big meeting, you don’t necessarily need to pace yourself to get to the finish line. But when you’re in a never ending “sprint”, like many Executives felt as they and their teams reacted and pivoted during the pandemic, you may not realize that you’ve shifted to the marathon lane and now need serious pacing!
When we don’t pace ourselves, and we work harder and longer, and skip that workout and cut back on sleep, and feel more and more stress, we wear ourselves out and burnout ensues. I’ve experienced burnout from crisis, but I’ve also gotten burned out from my passion too. Two years ago, I was working on my first book manuscript and I was under a ton of stress to meet the deadline. I felt like I was sprinting, and I told myself I could do anything for a short period of time (which is often true). In this case, I pushed myself to the limit, and it took me weeks to recover. Worse, I didn’t spend quality time with my daughters during the holidays. Later, I realized that while I met the imminent deadline, I wasn’t writing the book I wanted to publish, so I ended up on an even longer marathon of 2+ years. I keep my motivation going by realizing I’m writing the book I’m meant to write now, which is aligned with my big why and my values. Pacing involved setting SMART goals and blocking off time and honoring that time (which is easier said than done).
Create Nourishing Habits
Pacing can also mean creating new habits that better serve your mind, body and spirit. When I completed my cancer recovery, I vowed to make time to take care of my body every day of my life, with workouts at least 3 days per week (vs. physical fitness being my lowest priority). At first, I hired a trainer to help me get in a routine. Now, it’s a non-negotiable, and even during my busiest periods, I walk at least 30 minutes/day, since I know research shows how valuable even that amount can be for health and wellbeing.
Find Flow, Promote Productivity
Over time, I realized that taking a walk or bike ride actually makes me even more productive, especially when I ‘m stressed. That’s because I shift into flow, which allows my mind to find solutions that I can’t see when I’m anxious and tired. Try it! Pace yourself by nourishing yourself, finding flow with something you enjoy – like a walk in nature – and see what magic happens. Chances are that you’ll be more productive and creative when you do.
Pro-Tip #4 to Fire up your Mind: When you are overwhelmed, reframe your mindset from “This is a sprint” to “This is part of my marathon.” Put yourself in the shoes of your wiser, elder self who is looking back on this situation at the end of your life, and ask: “what is most important in this situation?”
High achievers often use accomplishments, like finishing the marathon, as the key measure of success. In reality, showing up for the marathon each day, and responding well to the obstacles that get in your way, may be an even more important success metric. I have been on many metaphoric marathons and realize the finish line can often be overrated, if we are depleted, burned out or experience a health crisis. Whether you are in the beginning, middle or end of your marathon, keep your perspective, ask for support from people you value in your community, anchor to your big purpose and keep pacing yourself in sustainable ways. When you do, you’ll find more happiness, resilience and motivation to win each day, well before the final finish line.
Mind your Fire,
If I can support you or your teams to ramp up resilience and motivation as you navigate uncertainty and change, with speaking, workshops or coaching, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to join a group specifically for professional women leaders seeking to balance their passion for work and family while still accelerating their careers (talk about a long marathon!), this is the last chance to join Burnout to Balance & Beyond coaching program – which begins on Saturday, October 16th (and includes the Positive Intelligence (PQ) Program). Registration will be accepted through Friday, October 15th, COB.