When I first started running, it was brutal.
Let's be honest, it still is. I am perpetually falling out of this habit. Every time I return after a long break, it feels almost as hard as it did when I started.
I never wanted to be a runner. I didn't understand why people would voluntarily subject themselves to this particular brand of torture.
Then one day, for reasons I don't fully understand, I wanted to try.
I decided to use the Couch to 5K plan to give myself some structure and to make sure I didn't overdo it (no real chance of that, let's be honest), since this was very new for my body.
Even though the C25K plan begins with short periods of jogging interspersed with walking, each jog interval felt IMPOSSIBLE.
"Jog for how long? THREE MINUTES??? Without stopping you mean?!?"
And the "reward" for completing each day's training plan was a harder one the next time. (Seriously what kind of crappy motivator is that?!)
As the jog intervals lengthened, I started to catch myself thinking about how far I had to go.
"DEAR GOD, THIRTEEN MINUTES LEFT???" If I was only two minutes in and already ready to quit, thinking about jogging for thirteen more was about as helpful as if I downed a cheeseburger and a milkshake.
I noticed that when I thought about the length of the time I had left to run, my mind kept saying "I can't. I can't. I can't. I can't." in various ways. I felt defeated and was likely to quit. I had to figure out a way to keep myself going for what felt like an eternity.
One day, I spontaneously had an idea.
"Ok," I said to the voice in my head. "You can't possibly do [thirteen] more minutes. I get it. I don't disagree." I looked for a destination that was handful of yards away. "But can you make it to that lamp post?"
"Of course I can make it to the lamp post!" I replied. "It's *RIGHT THERE* for goodness sakes."
"Great! Just do that".
Once I reached the lamp post, I would find something else close by and make it my next goal. The tree. The building. The man sitting on that bench. The bus stop. Each time, I told myself I only had to get to that next spot.
And guess what? It worked!
Not every time. Sometimes I would quit. Sometimes I would struggle to keep thoughts of how much farther I had to go from rushing in and sabotaging my efforts.
But many times I was able to finish the training session by setting tiny achievable goals on top of more tiny achievable goals, until the voice in my ear (from the couch to 5K app, not to be confused with the voice in my head), said it was time for a walk break.
It's like that saying goes:
How do you eat an elephant?
One bite at a time.
The other day I was making yet another attempt to "get back into running" (sigh), and I found myself up to my old tricks again.
"Can you make it to that twig? That puddle? That abandoned sock? (Whose sock is that anyway? How did they lose it?? Do they know it's gone???)"
Suddenly, something about what I was doing felt really important.
I was being kind to myself.
I was taking baby steps.
I was meeting myself right where I was.
I thought about what it's like when we're facing intense emotional pain. When we get news that dramatically changes the landscape of our lives. When we're grieving. When someone we love gets a scary diagnosis. When we are living with chronic pain, illness, anxiety, or depression.
Trying to imagine the days, weeks, months, years ahead can be too much to bear. We think, "how can I possible feel this way for that long? I'll never make it. This will kill me."
In that moment, we are so exhausted, overwhelmed, and in pain that it feels untenable to carry this weight for such a long time.
But what if we don't allow ourselves to think that far ahead. What if we ask if we can just make it through the day? Or a few hours? Whatever interval of time feels possible is the one we should call to mind. Figure out which question would elicit the reply, "of course!"
Of course I can make it to the lamp post.
Of course, I can stand this pain for one minute.
It may be a very small interval.
It may be the length of one breath.
So breathe that breath.
How do you eat an elephant?
We cannot cope with all of our pain from now until eternity in this moment. But we don't have to.
We bear things not all at once, but one moment at a time.
All you have to do is make it to the lamp post.
It's right there. It's in your sight.
You've got this.
fara tucker, lcsw
therapist~consultant~teacher in Portland, Oregon