Last month I ran 4 miles a day, 6 days a week. It was greuling some days, but I did a hard thing.
finding joy in hard things
Each aspect of my life has been challenged before, from faith to health to morality to aspiration. After every setback it is easy to see, in retrospect, the difficulty I was faced with. I recognize that my life has been for the most part one full of privilege – I am grateful and undeserving of the life given me. My experience, though, has taught me that it is good to be faced with moderate opposition. Even my closest friends and I hold opposing views.
For example, during a racquet sports class in high school, a friend and I had a heated argument about how cloud computing would rise. I expected that music, gaming, and the operating system would for the most part be offloaded to a server on the internet. My friend thought that the benefits of local computation were too great to give up. Neither of us were entirely wrong. Exposure to an alternative perspective helped me to articulate my thoughts and empathize with the points he was making. We argued vehemently during the class but it didn’t affect our relationship in the long term.
Similarly, I hold a firm belief that we should make an effort to face, and even embrace, opposition when presented with difficulty. Discomfort is a joy; it keeps us young, it energizes the mind. It need not alter my personal opinion of running to run every day of the month, but doing it offers me a level of “discomfort immersion” that is not possible otherwise. By fully committing myself to something I was not sure I would complete, I challenged and developed my own perspective in new ways.
By the way, I did learn to love running and I’m better for it.
running is boring
Our bodies are built for endurance running. We are bipedal maybe for that very purpose – enabling us to chase an animal long enough to wear it down and make it easier to hunt. It seems that our brains may have missed out on that particular evolutionary leap though, because running is still boring.
Monotonous activity like running serves as forced boredom. It is a crucial component of what we need to be more creative. Locking out the standard overstimulation we regularly experience is refreshing. It is a breath of much-needed fresh air in a life filled with ever-present distraction. I experienced this in full force in April.
During my daily runs, I was also mulling over complex engineering problems from work, writing music, and planning my future. It seemed that as soon as I got moving my mind was received with clarity and candor. Most of the time I listened to an audiobook while I was out, which helped my mind to wander even more*. Running gave me the freedom to ignore everything else for some time. I could focus on my body, and let my mind do what it would. I would end each day knowing that I gave both mind and body opportunities to explore and expand.
I learned that my body is capable of enduring far longer than I give it credit for. Most days I would feel winded within the first half mile, but find myself energized before the halfway mark. The ache that began as an irritant ended as a mental endurance challenge. On the sixth straight day of running each week the most challenging part of accomplishing my daily run was turning down the other things I love to do. But I found a love for extended exercise.
* Having headphones in while trying to fuel creativity goes against most of the science on the subject, but I have found that it helps me better tune out the noise in my life. Plus, I need to keep up with that 52 book a year goal and read whenever I get the chance.