When “Now What?” Is Unhealthy.

May 9, 2014 at 10:50 am | Posted in And I ran (I ran so far away), Mindful., motherhood, Moving On. | 3 Comments

A couple of you remarked on my last post that perhaps goal setting isn’t bad, and maybe if I adjusted my goals to be more about family and living in the here and now, maybe some fun trips, et cetera, I could satisfy my need to have a Plan AND be able to focus on my family.

And I agree – that would totally be a win.

If I could just do that. A goal, in and of itself, isn’t bad.

For me, though? Dysfunction comes into play when I’m going for a goal. With me, it needs to be MORE. Add a touch of obsessiveness, some perfectionism, a need to research the hell out of every detail, and all of a sudden it isn’t just a simple goal anymore.

Case in point:

Last year, I decided I wanted to run another marathon, kind of as a “EFF YOU IF!” sort of thing. My first marathon was a shitshow in that I ended up injured with ITBS, and it took a LONG TIME to rehab from that.

So at the point where I decided to run last fall’s marathon I really had one goal – finish the race without being injured.

And then I started training.  My training went really, really well. I was faster and lighter and all the consistency in my mileage kept me from being injured and I was stronger. And so by the time I got to the race, I had myriad goals, one of which included qualifying for the Boston Marathon.

I did not qualify the day of the race. In fact, my race was similar to my first marathon in that I ended up walking most of the back half of the race. When I walked away from the race, I really didn’t have anything positive to say about my experience.

EXCEPT: I ran that race 45 minutes faster than my first marathon AND I finished uninjured. So by all rights, I SHOULD have come away happy.

I have never pegged myself for a perfectionist; whenever my therapist alluded to the idea that I might be, I always resisted it. Because I believed that perfectionists believed they could actually achieve perfection. Me personally? I know I will never do anything that’s perfect. I’m not good enough to be perfect.

But. I do feel this need to be MORE. Maybe I won’t be perfect – I know that about myself – but with everything I do, I need to be just a little more. I can’t just do something, I have to push myself. When I know I am capable of something, I need to perform to my capability, no matter what it is.

With running, I know am capable of running a BQ. All my training has shown me this. Therefore, whenever I run a marathon I need to run a BQ. Period.

The thing about marathoning, though? It’s hard. The marathon is fickle. If you didn’t fuel right, or drink enough water, if you wake up sad, or you didn’t eat the right things the week before, or it’s a sunny and hot day when you’ve been training in bitter cold… all of it can impact your race day.  So even if you’re an experienced marathoner, pacing on marathon day is TOUGH. I have a friend, who has run 30 marathons over the past number of years. And he told me recently: maybe 1 in 10 races he actually gets his pace right.

It was unrealistic, then, for me to expect a BQ on my second ever marathon.

But I came away from last fall downtrodden. And  I decided I just needed to work harder. I set off this winter with a goal of running really hard – if I aimed at a 3:30 marathon, then on race day it would be cakewalk to get a 3:40, right?

I ran hard this winter… and nearly burned myself right out of running altogether. I got slow, and tired, and achy and old and angry, and I had more runs where I loathed every minute I was out there than I ever have since I started running.

I would have continued to do it, too, if it weren’t for my friend D, who commented that she didn’t understand why I was pushing so hard to do something which seemed to steal my joy. And in that moment, I responded with some lame reply about how I needed to get better at marathons, and this was the right way to do it, and it probably was just it being winter and cold and I’d feel better in the spring.

But that comment was the catalyst: it got me thinking.

I was pretty miserable. Why was I making running so HARD on myself? Who really cared if finished a marathon in 3:40 or 4:10? My kid would love me regardless. Why didn’t I just run for happiness? Could I find that joy in running again?

So I slowed down, and took the pressure off myself. I ran with a slower pace group at track practice. I focused on looking for the happy in my running. And as the weather improved and my legs rebounded, it got easier, and I was SO much happier.

I run the marathon this coming Sunday. My goal, if I can call it that, is to run comfortably: walk the water stops, yes. But run the whole damn thing. It’s Mother’s Day, my family will be there, and we’re going to eat lobster afterwards, just the three of us.

The thing with me and goals is that I can’t do them in moderation. If I call it a goal, if I start planning, it becomes an obsession. And as I do more research and learn more, I start to increase my expectations. And then it no longer becomes fun or meaningful; it turns into something I have to prove, a way of showing myself I’m good enough, or strong enough, or more than okay. I have a need to feel capable, and the way to do that is to master whatever goal it is I am working on.

That is why I’m trying NOT to have goals right now. Sitting in stillness, deliberately eschewing a Plan is the only way I can think of to help me understand WHY I feel like I need to be More. I need to step out of this pattern. Maybe just for a short while, but long enough to actually SEE what I do to myself. I feel like the more I can change my pattern, the feelings that come up will help teach me why they’re patterns, and maybe I can find a way into longer lasting contentment.

Or something.

(Yet another post where I’m not sure if this makes sense. It’s still confusing to me. Sigh.)

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3 Comments »

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  1. I love that phrase: “steal my joy.” I think if we sat down and looked at all the joy stealers in our lives… We would never let a thief keep coming back into our house, but we keep letting joy stealers come into our lives. We practically invite them in.

  2. “Me personally? I know I will never do anything that’s perfect. I’m not good enough to be perfect.” This is what hurts me for you. It SHOULD be that perfection is an illusion and shouldn’t even be a consideration, much less a goal and yet you blame yourself, that YOU are not good enough.

    I have never in my life strived for perfection. It is an exercise in the unattainable and in futility. I also don’t keep up with the Joneses. I live MY life on MY terms and TRY to be the best version of myself, knowing, accepting and embracing that I will fall short of that a LOT of the time.

    I love you as a woman, a friend, a mother, someone who I share infertility with. You are powerful and insightful and a motivator. I hate to think that you must think me a chump for thinking you are awesome and being proud to know you.

  3. Don’t worry, it makes sense. For me, having plans makes me feel good because I feel proactive, or I’m excited about the thing I’m going to be better at. But for you, it sounds like you need a plan so you can have something to beat yourself up about. Are you ever happy with your plans & what they accomplish, or do they always end in frustration at not being perfect?

    I don’t know what the answer is. It seems like it’d be a hard habit to stop.


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