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Are You A Finisher?

Are You A Finisher?

photo: courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net (stock images “Runner Practicing On A RaceTrack”)

by: Zachary Lee

I’m a terrible runner… at least by my standards. My average mile takes me around 10 minutes. I’m by no means good at it. 

In high school I was really good at basketball, but not great. I was the sixth or seventh man on our bench for our varsity depending on the game. No matter how much I practiced, how much I played, I couldn’t break the top five. We had an awesome team my senior year – with a record of 28-0, we won the state championship and it was a dream come true. That year I won our “Oil Can” award which goes to the hardest working senior. It wasn’t until I was in my 30’s that I could fully appreciate what the award represents – and it’s more than just being the hardest worker; it represents not quitting and facing frustration and challenges head-on when things haven’t gone according to my plan. 

Since I’m talking about sports, my favorite right now is lifting weights. I’m not the strongest guy in the gym but I’m stronger than average. 

The reason I’m telling you this isn’t to give you a list of my accomplishments or tell you what I’m good at or what I’m not good at. The reason I’m telling you this is that through running and enjoying my favorite sports, I’ve learned a lot about who I am and what I’m capable of. More importantly, I’ve learned what I’m not good at and what I’m not capable of – a hard lesson for most of us. 

I’ve learned that I’ll never be the fastest guy on a track; I’ve learned that I’m not ever going to be an amazing athlete; and I’ve also learned a lot about my limitations and strengths. 

Medium speed and a steady pace wins the race (at least that’s my motto). Consistency and an intentional plan are my routines to finishing what I start and excelling in what I do. 

My wife (Kate) and I are currently training for a half-marathon in Eau Claire, WI. The race takes place this October and is being sponsored by NBC’s The Biggest Loser show. At the race there will be contestants from the show doing guest appearances and meeting racers. 

As Kate and I have been training and preparing for the day I’m getting more excited to get there. We’ve been following our training “blueprint” and although there have been a few hiccups along the way (shin-splints) training has gone well. 

If you’ve never been part of a race I would highly recommend the experience. You are surrounding yourself with finishers. From my perspective every single person entering the race is to be commended. They’ve all trained, incorporated new positive habits, and most importantly set a goal and followed-through. They’re finishing something. 

Could you imagine if NBC hosted this race and had guest appearances by three of their past contestants who started on the show but didn’t lose any weight? Could you imagine having race competitors finish the race and then go up to take a picture with a person who hadn’t accomplished anything? It wouldn’t make any sense.  

This isn’t the first half-marathon that Kate and I have ran together. With every race that we prepare for we learn a little bit more about ourselves, each other, and what we can expect and not expect from our bodies. Preparing for this race has increased our physiological self-awareness and our mental acuteness. 

My question is, why is it that some of us are great at starting projects and finishing them, while others are great starters and terrible finishers? We’ve all done it before and most likely we’ll all do it again – we’ll start something and not finish it. Why? 

When I think about times that I’ve succeeded and times that I’ve failed it’s really come down to putting myself in the best position to win and the best position to finish. 

Some projects/events in our lives have predictable fail or succeed rates: I know that I can walk a mile, I know I can’t do open-heart surgery. 

But what about more real-life scenarios that we all deal with either personally or professionally that fall into that gray area of the unknown? Here are some tips that I follow to set myself up for the greatest opportunity of success and diminishing my opportunity to failing:

Know Your Limitations: This has always been a really hard one for me because I’ve always been of the mindset that if I set my mind to it I can accomplish anything. Wrong! Unless I have unlimited time, money, resources, and patience from those I may be working with or influencing. 

You have to be okay with narrowing your focus and saying I’m bad at this, ok at that, and fantastic at X, Y, Z…

The more you know your limitations and your strengths, the more you will position yourself for winning opportunities and create new levels of success for yourself and those around you.  

Don’t Be A Yes Man/Woman: Just because someone invites you to do something doesn’t mean you should accept the invitation. If your plate is already swamped and adding another committee, team, task or event is going to undo the balance in your life take practice at saying “no”. 

I used to be known as a guy who said yes to everything. It was an ego booster for me and made me feel significant. Significant for about 10 minutes until the real commitment began and I realized I didn’t have the time it took to give 100% of my focus and attention. In the past it has left people feeling frustrated, surprised and let down. 

I now have the strategy of pretending my wife is sitting next to me when I am being asked to do something, join a team, or go somewhere. If Kate thinks it’s a good idea I’m on board. If I can see her shaking her head at me, even if it’s imaginary, I say thank for the opportunity but no thank you. 

Here’s the deal with not being a yes man or a yes woman – people respect you so much more for being up front. It’s a much better scenario than leading someone on into thinking they have your attention when they really don’t. 

You Grow In Increments: My dad and I were talking this morning about the legacy a couple leaves to their family, friends and community as they grow older. Most couples that we work with as they get older begin to think about how their lives are impacting others and if they are going to leave a positive lasting impression. My dad gave me some of that great Baby Boomer wisdom – he told me that as couples age and impact others they grow in increments. Most of these couples start with volunteering somewhere, donating to a charity, serving on a board somewhere, etc. and during all of these life experiences they grow as individuals and grow in their abilities to impact others. 

I think that pertains to most of us as well. We don’t start at point A and end at Z in one step. For most of us it’s choosing to take one step after the next while using our abilities (greatest strengths), having our goals targeted, and being consistent. 

Pace Yourself: One of my favorite things about running is that you really need to listen to your body in order to get the most out of it – mentally and physically. When I first started running I always would start out too fast. Before I knew it my heart rate was jacked, I couldn’t control my breathing and I would feel the energy leaving my body. It wasn’t until I started training with Kate that I began to see the benefits of learning how to pace myself in running and in life. 

The thing I learned first when I started running was that I approached it very similarly to the way I used to approach projects – sprinting out of the gates. I was an awesome starter and a terrible finisher. I internally hated that about myself. I would introspectively ask myself, “How can you be so amazing in the beginning and so lousy at the end?”

Simple answer – I didn’t pace myself. 

In running I’ve learned that I’m far more successful when I start out at a moderate pace in the beginning of a run and let my mind and body adapt to what I’m doing. As time goes on and I settle in it’s so much easier for me to speed up and also work through discomfort along the trail. I’m now around about a minute and a half faster at the end of my run than at the beginning. So those 10 minute miles can turn into eight and a half minute miles when I need to push myself. 

Running is as much a mental game as it is physical. Telling myself to keep going and to put one foot in front of the other is critical to finishing and critical to improving. 

Our relationships and our careers are very much the same. A lot of times when I work with clients who have a goal and they start out too fast fizzle out before the real work begins. 

Starting anything new (i.e., a work project, new relationship) is typically a lot of fun. Working through the middle and getting to the end can be a different story. 

Stu McLaren and Michele Cushatt, hosts of Michael Hyatt’s podcast “This Is Your Life” have both said that one of the most important things in life is practicing not quitting.  It’s that simple. 

Know Your Reason: What’s your end-game? If you don’t know it then you might as well not even enter the race. Sure once in a while you’ll do something because your in it for the “self-discovery” of finding out who you are and what your made of, but most of the time your doomed to fail if you don’t know your reason. 

Knowing your reason can be as simple as wanting to spend more time with your spouse (that’s why I’m doing this half-marathon) or wanting a new job promotion in the next six months (you want recognition for your expertise and hard work). 

If you struggle with finishing, sit down with someone close to you to help figure out why and then strategically plan how your going to accomplish your goal. 

Good luck and remember to pace yourself. 

About the Author: Zachary Lee is an entrepreneur who lives in the Twin Cities. His company, LifeWorks Group focuses on strategic interventions of relationships in the workplace and at home. Over the past five years he has worked with hundreds of couples helping improve their relationships and worked with organizations to improve employee morale, team dissatisfaction, and creating synergy in the workplace. 

To learn more about Zachary and LifeWorks Group visit: www.lovecommitsucceed.com