Treating Challenges as a Marathon

Wellness Tips From Your WashU WebMD Health Coaches:

Planning to run a marathon (or taking on any task that requires a lot of time, discipline, and energy) can be overwhelming.  The mere thought of the work that lies ahead may lead to procrastination.

Whether our task is literally training for/running a marathon, creating a new habit, or tackling a work challenge, it can be helpful to apply several key strategies to make it through:

  1.  Plan: Rather than waking up each day and deciding what you would like to do, break it into manageable steps and create realistic goals/deadlines for yourself along the way.  All of these completed tasks will ultimately add up to the completion of your overarching goal!  In our marathon analogy, it is vital to have a training plan and stick to it to make race day smoother.  When it comes to the actual race, having a strategy for how you will approach the beginning, middle, and end of the event (along with a Plan B and Plan C) is wise.
  2. Take the first step: The first step is often the hardest, but once a momentum has been garnered, any habit self-perpetuates more easily.  Also, flow states occur when we are on a roll with an activity and rising to meet a challenge.  You will never complete a marathon or any worthy goal if you don’t start, so take it from the famous Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu and remember that “a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step”.
  3. Avoid an overzealous start:  Many novice runners are so amped up at the beginning of a race that they start out too fast.  This initial sprint only leads to burnout by the end.  Therefore, it is important to pace yourself so that you finish as strongly as you started.  Taking care of your mental and physical health along the way (with words of motivation or nourishing foods, for example) is important whether you’re running 26.2 miles or learning a new skill.
  4. Visualize the big picture: Before completing a marathon, you would analyze the course map and perhaps scope out the terrain in advance.  There is power in knowing the course from an overhead view, including the start, the route, and the finish line.  Envision yourself completing your goal and get very clear on what success will look like for you.  Take a step back periodically to celebrate how far you’ve come while being cognizant of what lies ahead.
  5. Avoid distractions along the way:  Imagine if you stopped every mile or two of a marathon to take a break or to check your phone.  Regular breaks can be beneficial to restore both body and mind but too many will ultimately slow you down.  Additionally, getting back into the rhythm of the race is much harder after you’ve come to a standstill; the same happens if we’re constantly losing focus while working on a project.  If it helps, plan your break times and hold yourself to them.  The rest of the time, devote your full attention to the task at hand!
  6. Recognize that the finish may only be the beginning: After a successful race, we’re often motivated to push ourselves further and continue the habits we’ve ingrained.  Similarly, once you’ve learned to use EPIC or applied any new habit, it will become second nature.

Finally, remember that it takes dedication, perseverance, endurance, and patience to get to the finish line of any major undertaking.  Don’t forget to celebrate your successes, both large and small!

In Practice:

Todd Gulizia, MS, CHES

Todd: MS in Health Education; Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES), ACE Health Coach, Yoga Instructor since 2013

I applied many of these principles when completing my Master’s thesis.  In the beginning, the thought of all the research, data collection, and writing ahead was overwhelming.  The only true deadline was 1 year away, so it was up to me to plan and complete baby steps throughout.  After a month or two of procrastination, I realized I would never finish unless I set a clear timetable for myself, took the initial step on a daily basis, and avoided getting sidetracked by all the distractions vying for my attention.  The process in and of itself became more rewarding as I rose to meet the challenge, and the end result was a project I could be proud of!

Amy Hayden, MS, CHES

Amy: MS in Health Promotion Management, Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES), ACE Health Coach, UMASS Basic Skills for Working with Smokers

To maintain balance throughout the day, no matter what is going on in my life, I need to stay on track with stress management. Practicing meditation in the morning, taking stretching breaks throughout the day, drinking plenty of water, and doing deep breathing, helps me have more energy at the end of the day even during stressful times.  Sometimes I can’t see the forest for the trees, so keeping things in perspective can help reduce my stress; having consistent practices helps with that.

Daisy: BS in Exercise Science and Psychology, ACE Certified Personal Trainer, AFPA Holistic Certified Nutritionist, ACE Health Coach

While training for the 2017 Ironman 70.3 World Championship, I set small, attainable goals each day.  I made these goals realistic to build my confidence leading up to the big race. In addition, I completed smaller races where I knew I would be capable of getting first place to continue to build upon my confidence and reduce the negative thoughts I would have at the World Championship race.  In the end, I was able to line up to the start of the World Champs race, confident in my training and stress-free because I had planned and visualized the big picture.

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