Running With a Beginner’s Mind

Just recently I decided to pursue a new goal, something that, for me, is both a challenge and an opportunity.

Targeting my first 5K race may not seem like all that much, but I don’t run. Never. Not in high school or college, not for recreation, not for exercise. I have the shoes and some of the clothes, enough to get me through the chilly spring days, but that’s it. Still, I decided to go for it and joined a beginner’s running class that gathers twice-weekly for eight weeks, all in preparation for the race.

Last week was the first class, and we ran a little bit—one minute jogging, then a minute walking, back and forth like that for a few cycles. In subsequent sessions the walking intermezzos would shorten, while the periods of running would lengthen.

Did I mention I’d never run before?

I had forgotten how long a minute could be. I had a quick flash where, in my imagination, I collapsed into a heap and was carted off to the hospital, where someone encouraged my recovery with a whoopie pie and a cup of coffee while I, smiling through my caffeine-and-sugar euphoria, assumed it was all a dream.  That sounded really good after about the fourth run-walk cycle…

But I kept going—encouraged by three excellent, supportive running coaches. They reminded me (and others also just starting out; I wasn’t the only one) that we all came with goals, that we were all different, that we could achieve what we wanted and more. They’d run up next to us and remind us that we each had our own pace, telling us to hold on to that pace while we learned how to stretch our capacity for more from there. They told us to listen to our bodies and to be curious about what it’s telling us. Harder to breathe? Slow down. Sensing a cramp in my calf? Be sure you’re coming down on your feet correctly.

I began to heed their advice and listened in a way that was new for me. Since I’d never run before I became curious about my body’s responses to running: the way my lungs expanded in new ways, the way my legs muscles tensed and relaxed.

I soon turned to self-encouragement, urging a run to (at least) the next sign-post. I pushed, struggled, succeeded.  I realized that, as a beginner, I had a lot to learn about this new thing called “running.” Once I set my intention to learn, to respond to my pace, and to listen to my body’s triggers and cues, I began to enjoy the experience more. It became a lesson in discovery!

When we heard the shout of “FINAL WALK!” we all slowed down and headed back to the running store where we had begun. The coaches checked in with each of us, asked us how we felt and gave us each a “well done!” for finishing that day.  I headed home with a remembered appreciation for the “beginner’s mind,” that place from which we always start something new, something discoverable about ourselves.

As leaders, let’s remind ourselves to queue up our curiosity more and pay attention to our beginner’s mind. Our beginner’s mind may show us new ways of pacing ourselves as well as new ways of leading our teams. Our bodies and minds are intuitive and smart message transmitters, not just when we run, but also when we are in situations that are new or different.  What is yours telling you? What new triggers emerge from your beginner’s mind?

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What’s Most Important?

It’s New Year’s Eve day and many of us will write, read and share posts, notes and tweets that focus on traditional resolutions for the upcoming year. We’ve all seen or made them before – promises to eat better, exercise more, talk less – and they’re always made with the best of intentions. Yet they are driven by little more than timing. I mean, it is the New Year, right?

This post is not about that.

What I’d like to offer is an invitation to think about “right now,” to step back and reflect upon what’s most important to you today, at this moment. Ask yourself that question – What’s most important?

Perhaps right now the most important thing that you could be doing is to take a nap or a walk. Perhaps what would make your moment would be to eat that last piece of chocolate layer cake for breakfast (I’m all for that!). What is the one thing, the one “do” or “be” that will shepherd you into a place of well-being and contentment?

So often we hold ourselves hostage by the promises we make to ourselves. I’ve been there myself, caught in a loop of trying to lose the same [fill in the number] pounds for the last six years. If it was the most important thing – really…the MOST important thing – then I would have accomplished it some time ago. Other concerns, or goals, or distractions have moved up the ranks somewhere along the way and have made themselves more important.

What’s most important?

It’s a question I often use to begin a coaching session. Of all the things leaders encounter each day, there’s always a “most important” that trumps all others. Focusing on that usually opens the way for other concerns to fall away or slip in prioritization. But after we unpack it, examine it and address it—that most important item—there often comes the sense of clarity needed to get to the other stuff.

There will be plenty of posts today and over the next couple of days that will invite us to plan and make new goals for ourselves, and I look forward to reading them. Goals, too, are very important. Goals are good. We need goals to propel us forward.

This is more about pausing.  This is about awareness and, more importantly, self-awareness. It’s about taking a moment to fully understand what you can be doing or being right now.  What’s most important?

My wish is that we will ask ourselves that question over and over again in 2012.

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