By Kate Bennett, PsyD
One of my personal goals is to run a marathon before I turn 40. Initially, I intended to put that goal off until I was about 39 years old. Well, as luck would have it, friends invited my husband and me to run the Steamboat Stinger trail marathon this summer. Always being up for adventure and not cycling competitively anymore, we instantly agreed.
During our long runs over the past few weeks, I frequently pondered the idea of willpower. Considering the fact that my longest run prior to June was 10k, it is not surprising that I continually assess how willing I am to dedicate myself to marathon training. Willpower, after all, is essential for crossing the Steamboat Stinger finish line.
From the outside looking in, most people would deduce that I am a successful individual. Some might even consider me ‘lucky.’ While I agree that I am generally successful in several areas of life, I would say that I am far from ‘lucky.’ People who know me well would actually say that I am the opposite of lucky: I tend to be the person who inevitably has bad luck at inopportune times. For instance, my friends joked that I needed to be enclosed in bubble wrap because I crashed so frequently one season. Others might look at my resume and assume that I am naturally-talented or gifted. Again, I beg to differ. While I have a natural aptitude for academics and athletics, I was never the brightest student nor the best athlete. Instead, I was born with old-fashioned work ethic. From a young age, I intrinsically pushed myself to be my best, regardless of the outcome.
As I talk to clients about personal and athletic goals, I continually address the concepts of success (What does it mean to be successful? What if I fail? What if I do not like what I achieve?) and willpower (It makes me feel anxious. I am not sure this is worth it. How do I tolerate the discomfort associated with change? How do I maximize my efforts in sport?).
With these conversations in mind, in addition to many hours contemplating willpower during early morning trail runs, I created the following equation:
Values + Resiliency + Sacrifice + Willpower² = Increased Chances of Success
My goals (i.e. winning a national championship or earning a doctorate) very much represented my values and personal drive. I can guarantee that I would not have worked nearly as hard towards those goals if they were not significant and meaningful to me. At the end of any day, whether it be successful or disappointing, I could tell you exactly why and how my goals reflected my values. Being fully aware of that information made the toughest of days bearable.
I grew up riding ex-racehorses straight off the track. This means that I learned at a young age how to deal with failure and disappointment. Whether my horse acted up during a show or went lame, I was constantly managing emotions that most people avoid. Cycling was no different. I got dropped in more races then I won, I travelled cross country only to crash.
If I was not determined and committed to my goals, I would not have persevered through the hardest times in sport and life. There was no instant gratification in anything that I pursued. As a result, I learned how to cope with disappointment and move on. I now look at ‘failing’ as an opportunity to learn. While I would not choose to endure adversity, I certainly welcome it as an opportunity to grow personally and professionally.
In addition to tolerating disappointment, I willingly made sacrifices. From countless hours with frozen toes in Michigan barns to traveling everywhere with my bike, my goals were always reflected in my actions. Likewise, with graduate school, much of life was put on hold in order to earn my degree and create professional opportunities. Shortly after meeting my then boyfriend/now husband, I moved 1500 miles away from him to complete a one year pre-doctoral internship. Not only did I sacrifice meaningful time this increasingly more important person in my life but I also took a leap of faith trusting that it would all work out (and, it did!).
Knowing that accomplishments never came easy to me, I quickly learned about commitment, dedication, and determination. In order to achieve my personal and professional goals, I willingly put all of my effort towards obtaining them. At the end of the day, because I was so focused and committed to those goals, I endured discomfort and sacrifice in order to get one step closer to my goals. My willpower was the result of knowing, deep-down in my heart, that taking a chance, putting myself out there, was worth it because my goals aligned with my values.
Even now, as I train for the marathon, setting out for a run at 6am before work is far from ideal for me. In fact, I would much rather be sleeping at that early hour. But, I know that in order to achieve my goal of completing a marathon, I need to train, regardless of the momentary dissatisfaction it creates. Likewise, tolerating the discomfort of tired muscles, sore bones, and blisters during a long, Sunday morning run will be worth it in the end to me. After eight weeks of training and three half-marathons, I am committed…100% committed.
(Note: Commitment does not mean perfection.)
Regardless of whether you are trying to win a national championship, recover from an eating disorder, or simply feel happier, willpower is a key ingredient. It takes indomitable will to stand up each time you fall down, to endure discomfort, and to take a chance…to truly put yourself on the line. It takes willingness to try and possibly fail. But, when you are willing to take a risk, great things can happen. And, when you succeed, the reward is incredibly sweet.
What are you willing to try this summer?