One of the enduring characteristics of the organization where I work is transitivity. We gain new (military) leadership every two-to-three years, and the mission of every new leader appears to be to re-shape the organization in their particular vision. Our most recent leader decided on their arrival to send all the headquarters staff through training based on Stephen Covey’s seminal work, “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.”
There’s nothing inherently wrong with the work. I’ve read it twice; as a university undergraduate student (on the fervent recommendation of my economics professor) and as education and training specialist intern (on the fervent recommendation of my mentor). The habits Covey enumerates in the book are simple and enduring. Being a simple guy, I can get behind the Seven Habits. I’ve recommended the book to probably a couple of thousand students myself.
Last week I re-acquainted myself with the habits and asked myself the big question (while out walking the dog): ‘do the Seven Habits easily transfer to runners?’ What do I think are core habits of people who are successful at running? Naturally, like Socrates, we have to ask the questions: ‘what is success?’ ‘What is a successful runner?’ First off, I’ll say that I would not consider myself a successful runner. More like what John Wesley had to say about striving toward perfection. I may not get there, but I’m certainly going to try. Please me know when I do.
For your benefit, here are Covey’s Seven Habits…and a few thoughts on how I think they relate to those of us who are members of the running community:
Habit Number One: Be proactive. How many times have you read a local running bulletin board or the feedback section of Active.com and seen a race get blasted? Or you get an e-mail from your local running club crying out for more volunteers? Or you realize a subset group (women, kids, new runners, and so on) is missing an opportunity because nothing exists? It doesn’t take a USATF or RRCA coaching certificate to qualify someone to put together a running group. Just passion and time.
Habit Number Two: Begin with the end in mind. The hot, miserable days of summer, or the dark, miserable days of winter are barriers – not insurmountable ones, but barriers which we can focus on if we fail to keep a regular target event in mind. One of my marathon success stories, Beverly, told me her husband (and my old friend) Steven was in need of a “running” kick in the butt. She registered him for a 5K at a conference they both attended, yet he deferred with no apparent logical reason. I’m not saying you have to race every time there’s an event, but it is much easier to justify getting up bright and early on a weekend morning for a long run if there’s a half-marathon ten-to-twelve weeks in the distance.
Another way to utilize this habit: Perhaps you know someone who has been running well, or qualified for Boston, or ran their first half? Take the time to talk with them and find out the things they did to get them to the start line or through those final, difficult miles.
Habit Number Three: Put first things first. Spend time, be patient, visualize the desired result. But realize there are many divergent, yet parallel, training paths. The physiology of stress/rest is eternal, yet there are many ways of inducing the stress. If you want to run better, you have to do the work.
I recently read an Outside magazine article about a hard-core functional training group. On the wall of their gym was posted the quote at the beginning credits of the movie ‘Fight Club:’ “…Every word you read of this useless fine print is another second off your life. Don't you have other things to do? Is your life so empty that you honestly can't think of a better way to spend these moments? Or are you so impressed with authority that you give respect and credence to all who claim it? Do you read everything you're supposed to read? Do you think everything you're supposed to think? Buy what you're told you should want?....If you don't claim your humanity you will become a statistic.” We can spend so much time reading the latest “Five Weeks To Your Fastest 5K” article we completely miss the point.
Habit Number Four: Think win-win. There’s nothing wrong with helping another person to do well. When I was racing lots of 5Ks and part of a good size training group it still hurt to get beaten at a race, but if I had to get beaten I much preferred it to be someone with whom I was training. And if I could push them to a personal best, so much the better.
Habit Number Five: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. This habit is probably the most difficult to develop. Diversity exists. People do things in a particular manner because of their own personal paradigm. I’ve taken particular training methodologies to the mats before and considered them wanting, before looking at what value they might provide. Maybe my change of heart is because I’ve mellowed; more likely the change has to do with explaining where I’ve disagreed with a particular training philosophy.
This habit can also be taken down to the personal level; to give the pat on the back or credit to whom the credit is due. How many times have we seen someone running well and given sour grapes? Or say a race director has done something really cool at their event. If you truly believe so, tell them specifically what you appreciated; don’t waste your time with useless platitudes and meaningless words.
Habit Number Six: Synergize. This ties in well with Habit Number One. Working as a team with other persons can create a total which is greater than the sum of the parts. If you’re passionate about a particular cause or area of running and someone else is already doing something about it, the energy you exert to support it will far outweigh what “crab-in-a-bucket” tactics you can do to keep them down at your level. The question any passionate leader wants to hear is that of ‘how can I help you?’
Habit Number Seven: Sharpen The Saw. Take a day off each week to rest. I’d be so bold as to recommend a couple of successive rest days every three months, as well as perhaps even the last two weeks of the year. You can use the time off from running to spend with family and act like a “normal human being.” I have a short list of books on my shelf I like to pull down during the time between late November and the beginning of the new year, to read through and glean new nuggets. Take the time to feed your head a little. The reading material doesn’t necessarily have to be self-help books, coaching biographies or training plans, you know, stuff that’s almost directly related to running. If you take the time to think about it – kind of like how everything seems to eventually lead to Kevin Bacon, there is an interconnectedness of everything. Lastly, don’t believe everything you read in the popular running magazines or newspaper articles. If you’re patient enough to dig into the source documents you’ll get past the “flavor of the month” and find out what the genuine story is about the “newest thing in running or fitness.” A quick resource I like to use to get to the story behind the story is a weblog filled with scientific comment and analysis of sporting performance, “The Science of Sport,” hosted by Ross Tucker, PhD, and Jonathan Dugas, PhD, (www.sportsscientists.com). And naturally, I always refer back to Timothy Noakes, MD, and his thick tome “Lore of Running.”
Covey’s book was written in to cause a shift in the way people think and act in their lives and work places. His seven habits, I believe, transfer over into the life of every runner; since running is an extension of the rest of our life and our life is an extension of our running, it only makes perfect sense. Is there a quality you believe is essential to a runner’s effectiveness?