or “Overcoming an obsession with a result”
Some of you on Facebook know that Erik and I ran a marathon last year—almost exactly a year ago (Sept. 11, 2010). It was a great blessing and a thrill to be able to complete the 26 mile race, which was a goal we had set together and prepared for for over 8 months. But I must be honest in relating that I started to get anxiety that spring as I worried whether or not I’d be able to complete the goal since there were so many things that could go wrong during our training—in terms of injuries. I remember thinking that the outcome was outside my control, which made me really nervous, anxious, and almost hesitant to invest in all the effort if I couldn’t be promised the outcome. Has that ever happened to you? The cold-feet of a control-freak?
Fortunately, an idea came to mind that became a saving grace for my continued commitment to my goal. It was this: I had set goals in ninth grade seminary—including the lofty, challenging “Graduate from high school with a 4.0”–but I had not experienced anxiety then. What was the difference? I realized that when I’d set those earlier goals, I had expected I could do it. I was counting on success. I hadn’t immediately worried, ‘Oh, there’re a thousand things that could prevent me from getting my 4.0–I could get sick, I could get in a car wreck and have to miss class for a long time, etc.’ Perhaps I was simply naïve, but my confidence carried me forward with enthusiasm and commitment toward my goal. When this thought occurred to me last spring, I realized its applicability to the current situation. ‘I should just plan for success with this marathon, moving forward in the positive energy that it’s going to happen, and not allow myself to be anxious.’
Not long after that, I came across an online article written by a marathon professional—a trainer—which again challenged my marathon anxiety. The author mentioned how, so often, people put all of their focus on the day of the race—the marathon itself. She wanted to remind people, she said, that the great benefit of a marathon is not actually the day of stuff, because the long-distance race actually puts a tremendous amount of strain and stress upon the body. The real benefit of running a marathon is all the necessary preparatory training at shorter distances in the months preceding it. It’s what builds up the heart and the lung capacity—the stamina. People with a regular regimen of vigorous walking can be just as healthy as marathon runners, she asserted. The regular, moderate cardio training is what provides the long-term benefits, not the race itself. Reading these comments was inspiring. My training alone was what mattered most! What an important point to help me stop worrying about my personal outcome in the actual marathon. It inspired me to start telling myself, ‘I am engaged in marathon training. I am a marathon trainer <wink, wink>,’ and to lose concern over the results of the race.
As I started getting closer to the actual marathon, I told Erik, “I’d like to re-state my goal. Rather than have it be ‘Run a marathon,’ I want it to say ‘Run in a marathon.’ Finishing the race would be nice, but I don’t want my goal to hinge on that. I have trained for, prepared for, and will actually run in a marathon. That’s what counts.” He smiled at my semantic games, but understood where they were coming from.
The night before the race, I had a hard time falling asleep. The paper thin walls of the Price hotel we were staying in did not dampen the noise of the noisy teens next door—darn it—but I imagine they were not the only cause of my insomnia. I’m not cognizant of all the reasons for it, but I’m guessing the idea of going 26 miles was a bit daunting. Would I be able to do it? We’d never run that far before (the marathon training schedule we’d been using limited the longest preparatory run to 22 miles, to avoid strain), so I knew I didn’t know what those last miles would be like. Maybe the unknown is what scared me, more than a fear of failure. Not sure.
Well, we both were able to finish the race. What a thrill! The last 3 miles were extremely painful for me, however, when the tendons on the sides of my knees began throbbing and sobbing, “Overload! Overload!” Not. Fun. But, fortunately, it wasn’t so bad that I had to stop. My training had given me sufficient stamina to finish. Hurrah!
I wanted to blog about this incident because I think that we, as perfectionists, too often obsess over outcomes. I guess, if I think about it honestly, that is the definition of perfectionism: being unsatisfied with anything less than the ideal [a measurable outcome state]. When we have an ideal—a desired goal, an expectation—we measure ourselves against it. Even if we acknowledge that the ideal is something we can work toward, we feel anxiety about the uncertainty of our reaching it. Placing emphasis on the end result rather than the learning/training process can truly thwart us—as it almost did me last spring. It’s an unhealthy way to evaluate and experience life—making us ungrateful for all that is good in our lives, and overwhelmed by the pressure to be more.