I ran on the road yesterday. There. I said it. I was all geared up with my heavy water-pack, warm mitts, gaiters, and all the winter gear necessary for a good hour and half in the woods. The only thing: my mind was having difficulty motivating my body to leave the car. I knew that I should be motivated by the sight of a trail-head. Trail running has been a major external tool that has helped me develop self-confidence, resilience, and equanimity over the last six or seven years without fail. Road running hasn’t built those internal qualities in me since I moved over from Ironman races to Ultra-running. But the sun felt good, and my ‘gut’ was telling me that if I just gave it a chance, well… road running could be a viable external tool again.
For a little over a decade, I have developed a bucket FULL of tools (some internal, others external) to help me get out the door to go and train. How I lay out my gear, visualizing where I was going to run and how it would feel, “go to” music that would center me. All great catalysts. One of the greatest tools of all: running in the woods! I have been running on mud, rock, root, and snow for more than half a decade with great success in building my perseverance, confidence, and resilience. The problem I was facing today (and it would be a lie to say it hasn’t been chewing on me a great deal longer), is that this particular ‘tool’ (the trails) that I’ve successfully leaned on for a great while wasn’t working. My gut was telling me I simply needed to be on the road, but it was an unfamiliar tool, or at least one that I hadn’t used in years. I wasn’t ‘confident’ that I could find my confidence, resilience, or equanimity there.
I’ve seen this happen to many of my mental/emotional tools. Songs, visualizations, or movies that would elicit passion or drive, seemed over-played and no longer reached inside to turn something on in me. Instead of looking for new catalysts that might ‘move’ me, I would hunker down and just ‘grip’ those old, atrophying mental/emotional tools harder, hoping to squeeze out the mental/emotional support that they once provided. I had become angry. It felt like a betrayal. Could it be that my mental/emotional tools had failed me? Was it that they were no longer willing to take to care of me, or was it something a bit more realistic…
I was no longer taking care of my tools.
Everyone grows comfortable with what works. If you’re a builder, you may have your favorite hammer. You may have built your whole glorious house with it (possibly a whole town, it’s a heck of a hammer). Fixed little problems that came up from time to time. Have wonderful memories with it, and put it back in its tool box a thousand times with the feeling of “another job well-done” resonating through your mind. But only a fool tries to keep building with it once it breaks. Out-lives its service. A service that you can be forever grateful for, but you know as well as I do, you need to keep building. Continuing to lean on the things that motivated us to excel when they no longer ignite our passion to grow mentally and emotionally, is like going to a well that no longer has water in it, just because we’re familiar with the path that leads us there.
The catalysts that you use to motivate yourself, the tools that you build with, the rituals you practice, or the prayers you say, you can be forever grateful for, but that’s it. Continuing to romance or drag out the tool that “once upon a time” fulfilled your requirements to find your equanimity, your resilience, only poisons your memories of those cherished mental/emotional tools. Worse, it can keep you from finding the new tools in your life that can continue the work your older tools started.
This does not mean every mental/emotional tool needs to be sent to the scrap pile, though. Some tools may just need to be refurbished (like finding new songs or movies that motivate you). After all, the better you care for your tools, the longer (and better) they will work for you. If you find there’s more than just comfort with some old tools that have worked in the past, they may be worth your investment to revitalize them. As long as your effort does not come at the cost of creating new tools: rituals, finding new places to run, or even taking up a completely new sport that brings about positive emotional change and growth. Mental, emotional, and physical changes are the only constants that you can count on, so keep the catalysts that have been working flexible and reliable. And keep a sharp eye out for new tools to add to your toolbox, or an old one you haven’t used in a while, that can breathe life into your authentic self. This will always leave you in a space to deal with the changes in your life, internally and externally, which is the reason you created the tools in the first place.
I decided to go with my gut. Give the road a shot again. I convinced myself it was an old tool that was making a comeback. Not replacing my days of pushing through the woods, but adding another tool, a familiar tool, to my line up. It truly was one of the best feeling runs I’ve had in a long while… And just so you know, I ran in the woods today, and it did not disappoint!