I’ve always hated working out. I’ve always hated being fat. Turns out, these things are related.
I suspected I was going to leave my full time job a few months before I resigned. I decided I would not dive right into the next gig which meant there would be a seventy-hour-a-week, work-shaped hole in my life. My job was not a job; it occupied much of my time, most of my brain and, often, my heart.
Before I resigned, I made plans. My Mom and I signed up to bike from Venice to Florence on a self guided tour averaging 35 miles a day. I had travelled forty weeks a year for four years. I hadn’t been on a bike since 2012. I hadn’t biked thirty miles, ever.
There was a month between my last day and our departure. I was in the worst shape of my adult life and emotionally wrung out. Stress-related weight and hair loss left me aged in the face and “skinny fat” – size 4, no muscle, winded on the second flight of stairs. I was a hot mess.
The wisdom of the fit crowd (those smug fillies) has been that if you need motivation to run/swim/cycle longer/better/faster, you’d best sign up for a race. An impending marathon is the accountability one needs to follow a training plan. Each time this was repeated, I said “yeah, that totally makes sense” and ordered a(nother) bourbon.
I have theories on how change really happens. One of these is that sustained new behavior can be broken into three components: preparation for the thing, the thing itself, the outcome of the thing. Let’s call these the journey, experience, and reward. I believe people are motivated by at least one of components; more components = more stickiness.
When I envisioned myself as a marathoner I recalled the years I lived on the Upper East side; watching the pee-covered runners hobble up 2nd Ave. seemed like special torture. In my hypothetical marathon, we can scratch “the experience” from the motivational menu. Seeing friends train to complete the death race appeared equal parts time consuming, painful, and boring. Scratch “the journey.” What about the outcome? For many, slapping that 26.2 sticker on a bumper and wearing a “finisher” medal and tin foil blanket to brunch in-post is deeply, personally, satisfying. I’m missing that gene.
Researching the Italy trip, I knew we would be cycling along the Adriatic sea and through the Tuscan valley. I wanted to be present in those gorgeous moments without worry of the next hill. To have wine at lunch and finish the afternoon leg. To wander windy streets of small towns in the evening sans nap/oxygen. Creating a foundation from which to enjoy “the experience” was critical.
My vision for the experience provided enough motivation to start the journey; the surprise was when I began to enjoy it. I had post-work trauma to process, a mountain of content to consume and a dramatically empty schedule. Afternoons listening to autobiographies on Audible or the Freakonomics podcast redirected my busy mind. Physical exhaustion trumped anxiety dreams. Preparing for our trip tethered me to something. Several days each week I set off in the morning to ride around Durham, the hometown I’d seen mostly on weekends. I started with ten miles and worked up to fifty at a clip. I loved it.
The outcome, in this instance, was the least crucial. There was no medal, no bragging rights, no race-related swag, no ambition fulfilled. Was I pleased when we locked up those bikes for the last time at a crappy hotel in East Florence? You bet I was. But the first two components created the lasting behavior change.
Maybe that’s true most of the time. I’m not a goal oriented person. My ambition is about creation, satisfying curiosities, stretching mental and physical boundaries, not extrinsic rewards. I’m a finisher by nature yet often feel let-down when the end is behind me and the bonus awarded. I miss the making and the moment.
I’ve begun to examine any number of ways that the journey, the experience, or the outcome have and have not inspired me to evolve. Today I lob this idea to you and ask – do these components resonate? How do you think about them?