I’ve been running for a long time — like 20 years a long time. Running is something that people find hard to do. They start. They stop. They start again. They read magazine articles like, “8 Weeks to a 5k!” and “Essential Gear for the New Runner!” They tell their friends that they have started running. They drive to the gym to run on treadmills.
They will stop running.
Because all of that stuff is garbage.
I’m going to tell you how to do something for 20 years. It can be running. It can be something else. But I guarantee that you will fail if you do not follow these steps.
How do I know? I’ve been running for 20 years. I know.
Step 1: Choose something that you wildly, passionately enjoy.
If you don’t do this, you will quit.
Do you love chess? Does it make you feel alive? Does it make you want to wake up in the morning? No? Then chess is a great hobby for you. You will play on and off. You will not play chess for 20 years.
Do you want to be a runner? Or a gymnast? Or a painter?
If you have to think about it, and if you have to design some elaborate plan to make you that thing, you will not do it for 20 years.
Life is too crazy. Things get in the way. You find other things that you want to do. You get married. You have kids. You get divorced. You get fired. You get a promotion.
If you don’t wildly, passionately enjoy the activity, you will not keep doing it for 20 years.
I run on a farm. As in, I do not run on a road. There are no streetlights, so I wear a headlamp because I run a 5:00 a.m.
Why do I do this?
My wife and I moved to the country about six years ago. We had kids. Therefore, I run before anyone else is awake, and I do not have streetlights.
I keep running because I wildly, passionately enjoy it. If I didn’t wildly, passionately enjoy running, I would stop. Excuses are too easy to find.
If you want to exercise, and if you want to stick with it, choose something that you wildly, passionately enjoy.
Neal Stephenson is one of my favorite authors. His form of exercise is sword fighting. Why? Because he wildly, passionately enjoys it. It is the activity most likely to get him to move around.
You don’t have to be a runner or a weight lifter. Be a sword fighter, a fencer, a dancer, or anything else that you wildly, passionately enjoy.
Step 2: Schedule breaks.
I ran every day from the age of 12 to the age of 19. I’m sure there were some days that I missed, but I can’t remember them.
This was a stupid thing to do.
You need to schedule breaks.
Humans aren’t meant to do the same things every day. I can only think of a handful of things that I want to do every single day, and it’s almost impossible to do those things that frequently. This is the universe that we live in.
With my running example, I started having scheduled breaks on my collegiate running teams. This was awesome. My body got to rest. My mind got to rest.
One day off per week. A week or two off after each season. And I was a college-level runner. Unless you are at professional level with your activity (meaning you know everything about it and also about your own body/mind’s relationship to that activity), then take my advice and schedule breaks.
I was reading an article on running a few years ago (See Step 1), and the article was about this guy who had some sort of nagging injury. He needed to take a few weeks off, but he wouldn’t. Finally, an older, wiser runner-guru asked him, “Do you want to run for the next two weeks, or do you want to run for the next 20 years?”
That stuck with me. Every day, your plan isn’t to do your activity. Your plan is to do your activity for the next 20 years. What will maximize the likelihood that you will still be playing chess, dancing, singing, running or whatever?
Some days (or even some weeks), that means that you take a scheduled break.
Step 3: Don’t quit.
Some days, some weeks, some months, or even some years, you are going to hate what you are doing.
You will hate running. You will hate playing chess. You will hate dancing, or karate or spin class or whatever it is that you are trying to do for 20 years.
You will hate it, but you cannot quit.
One of my favorite poems is “Sea Fever” by John Masefield. Without going all English major on you with an analysis of the poem, the guy hates sailing, and he loves sailing. He loves the wild ocean even though the wind cuts him like a knife. He probably doesn’t have a family because of sailing. But even after a long trip, he “must go down to the seas again.”
And you must keep going.
If you wildly, passionately enjoy your activity, you have to remember that in the times that you hate it.
Whenever it’s 15 degrees and my feet are wet and muddy and I am running on a dark winter morning in an icy drizzle, I just keep going. Whenever I think, “There are so many other things I could do with my mornings other than run,” I keep running.
I will not stop. I will not stop running for good until I physically cannot run. When that day comes, I will smile and know that I have been a real runner.
You must keep going, or you will spend your life flitting from one thing to another, and you will never be anything.
You have to keep going.
Because, if you wildly, passionately enjoy the activity, most days you will be charged up and ready to go dance or lift weights or ride your bicycle or study French. But many days you will not.
Step 4: Get started.
20 years is a long time.
None of us knows if we have 20 years left, and every year that you put off starting makes it less likely that you will make it.
Get started now.
Choose something you are wildly, passionately in love with. Schedule breaks. Don’t quit. Get started.