So it turns out I have an elephant.
I never realized it before.
Fortunately, I don’t need to exercise it or anything because I have a rider for it, too.
But that’s kind of getting ahead of myself, so maybe I should back up a little.
Two years ago I joined a group on Facebook formed by a friend of mine that I knew pretty well in high school, but she graduated a year ahead of me, moved on with her life and I with mine, and as sometimes happens with “old” high school friends, we lost contact for a decade or so. I’d hear updates of her life through other mutual friends or family that knew her, but mostly we were both off just living our lives, doing our own thing.
Then one day Mark Zuckerburg engineered his way into our lives with the invention of Facebook. And suddenly all the friends anyone ever wanted to know what happened to were suddenly very reachable.
She and I were one of the lucky ones who reconnected.
As fate would have it, she was going to begin an exercise challenge known as the “30-Day Shred.” It’s a workout created by Jillian Michaels (of TV’s The Biggest Loser fame) made up three 20-minute workouts of increasing intensity consisting of cardio, strength and ab training all in one. My friend offered that any Facebook friends of hers could join this challenge with her, and since I already had the DVD (but had never really done it in 30 days), I joined the group.
Fast forward two years, and her humble little group of “friends” has grown to over 50 people (friends of friends are in now, too, so many of us do not know each other), and we post our workouts, our frustrations, our favorite healthy recipes and generally try to be encouraging to one another in the area of fitness and healthy lifestyles. It’s a great thing and definitely an important part of my road to wellness over the past few years.
That being said, it can also be incredibly annoying. Why? Well, because some of these ladies tend to make Jillian Michaels look like she’s a lazy wimp. Just when you start to feel all proud of yourself for doing 10 situps without passing out, someone will post (usually the same day) that they just completed the 10,000 situp challenge in 4 days.
Or something like that.
Anyhoo, despite the fact that it can be annoying, I realize there’s really nothing wrong with someone finally reaching a goal they’d set for themselves. And their goals really don’t have anything to do with me, so in general I find it easy to be supportive.
But there was one challenge that just really bothered me. It was called the Couch to 5K, and much like it’s name, the intention of the workout is to take you off the couch and up to running a 5K in 8 weeks. Pretty neat, but I was doubtful I could do it. I mean, the couch part I was OK with, but the 5K? Not so much. Especially since the last time I remember running was in 2005, and that was just to the end of my driveway because I was trying to flag down the postman for some mail I needed him to deliver. So running a whole 5K seemed unlikely.
Still…many of the women swore by it, so I decided to give it a try. I tagged my dog as my running partner and for three weeks we ran together. And you know what? It really wasn’t all that bad.
Then I started getting bunions.
And it started getting hotter.
And so we quit.
And that would have been the end of it, if it weren’t for these
nagging encouraging women on this chirpy little motivating group on Facebook.
About that time was when I realized the “positive peer pressure” that we parents so often hope our kids will experience in order to give them that little bit of courage they’re lacking to try something new, was actually happening to me.
Suddenly, I didn’t want to be the only one (out of 50 women) who couldn’t run a 5K.
Starting from the couch.
So, I laced up my (new, better-ftting) tennis shoes and I started over (with the dog). And the dog wasn’t too crazy about trying this again, because he’s more about walking and sniffing and pooping and leaving pee-mail for all the neighborhood dogs than he is about running for no reason. And since it was getting hotter all the time and he has a long furry coat, he’d often be trotting as far behind me as his 6 foot leash would allow. This was fine by me. Because every day I ran, I could at least
brag post on my Facebook group’s page that I’d completed the workout, met the goal for the day, (and I’d try not to rub it in too much that I was running faster than my dog).
So the weeks wore on, I met the three week mark and blew past it, knowing this time I would not quit until I reached the end of the eight weeks. Sure, there was a week or two when I’d take off for vacation and unlike my dedicated Facebook friends, I would NOT continue my workouts then. But, when I got back home, I’d start up again. And I was pretty thrilled with that.
At the end of week 5, I thought something must be wrong with the plan. Because suddenly my workouts jumped from running no more than eight minutes at a time (with 5 minutes walking and then another 8 minute run, alternating for 20 some minutes) to suddenly running 20 minutes non-stop.
That couldn’t be right. I checked the posts of some of the gals on the Facebook group and (big surprise) those who had surpassed Week 5 reported how, while intimidating, it was not only possible to achieve a 20 minute run by that time, but that they’d actually surpassed that goal on that day.
I was surrounded by insanity, it appeared.
Still, I wanted to at least have bragging rights to completing SOMETHING (the last thing I’d completed, I think, was the original 30-day challenge two years earlier. I’d never even tried to go beyond that other than to workout somewhat regularly each week). And I was curious (though plagued with doubt) to see if I could also meet this goal (since it was now confirmed I wasn’t reading a typo).
So, when Week 5, Day 3 (you “only” run three days a week) arrived, I strapped on my running shoes, juiced up my iPod, leashed the dog and began the 5 minute warmup (which is supposed to be a “brisk walk”). I’m not going to lie to you. I was practically throwing up at the idea of running for 20 minutes. And yes, I did realize it was entirely possible that my biggest obstacle was my head. (What if my body was really capable of this challenge? What then?)
That’s when my thoughts turned to the elephant and the rider. They were mentioned in an audiobook my husband downloaded before our vacation, and together we’d listened to much of the book on our way to and from our vacation destination. The book was called Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath.
In it, the Heath brothers talked about how, when motivating others (or ourselves) to change, it’s important to determine whether we need to appeal more to a person’s head (their mental outlook, thoughts, etc) or a person’s heart (the way they feel about something). They likened these two parts of our selves to an elephant (our emotional side) and a rider (our thinking, analyzing side).
I’d enjoyed parts of the book, but hadn’t really applied it to anything in my own life… until that moment.
Suddenly, as my warmup was winding down and I was going to begin running, I knew that everything I needed for this run was in my (elephant) heart. Because my inner dialogue, my thoughts and analysis (rider) of this whole situation, were just not positive.
So you know what I did?
I told my rider to dismount my elephant.
And he did. (I have no idea why my rider is a man…that’s probably a whole ‘nother book I’ll need to buy).
Anyhoo, that was it. Off my happy ‘ol elephant-self trotted.
Prior to this day, I’d roughly planned my route so that at about the 10 minute mark, I’d feel closer to home (in case I needed to stop). (Curse you rider for tainting my elephant’s thinking!). And I’m not gonna lie. For about the first 5 or 6 minutes, I felt like an elephant out there. I was moving slow, I was trying not to exert myself, saving my energy for this looong run.
As I neared my “10-minute marker” I was growing nervous, because on this program (it’s an app you can download) a voice command will tell you that you are half-way. And I was nearly half-way, but still no voice had told me so. Oh no, I thought, maybe my iPod stopped? Or worse, I wasn’t even half-way? Just as the doubt nearly consumed me, I reached for my iPod only to hear the blessed announcement, “You are half-way.” And you know what? I still hadn’t reached the spot I’d imagined. I was so happy (this would come to haunt me later, but that’s another story…) because in that moment I *knew* I could run another 10 minutes.
So I did.
Just me, my dog, and my elephant.
Not a rider to be found anywhere.
And then, when I was nearing the end and heading for home, I heard the “one minute left” command. And I found myself thinking, only one? I thought I could go at least the remaining loooong block to my house, then I thought maybe I could even go around the block one more time…so I did!
When I finally stopped running, I looked down at the time completed to see I’d been running for 28 minutes!! A whole 8 minutes beyond what was necessary! Then I came home and did 25 pushups, too! (The pushups were part of another challenge. That I never even finished. But that’s irrelevant.)
And that’s when I realized something.
My elephant can be a real showoff.
So what does all this have to do with God, you may wonder. (Since that is usually my angle here.) Well, at first, I wasn’t entirely sure it had anything to do with God. I mean, what more was there to think about: I trained. I ran. I conquered.
Even so, I invited my rider back in, who couldn’t help but get me thinking again (it is his job, after all). And he helped me take inventory of what I knew for sure:
1. It was a great day!
2. I’d surpassed a goal that had seemed impossible.
3. I was savoring every moment.
4. Everything was coming up rainbows and unicorns and life in general was just about as perfect as it’d ever been.
5. I’d also (for the first time, really) plugged into a new awareness about identifying whether my internal messages were coming from my heart (elephant), or from my head (rider).
And with that 5th nugget of info, suddenly, a new thought occurred to me. Before I started running, *I* told the rider (my thoughts) to leave my elephant (unthinking, energentic heart) alone: Which *I* was giving this command?
It wasn’t my elephant. (He [I know, another male, uh!] was busy eating grass, minding his own business waiting to run).
It wasn’t my rider that told himself to get down. (He was busy throwing a little hissy fit about not being able to go along).
So who was this–now third–I, then?
Well, I can’t prove it, of course, but I’m pretty sure…
it was my soul.
You know, that all-knowing, all-loving, part of me (and you) that houses the Spirit of God (goodness)?
I held onto that revelation for a moment.
I let it sink in.
And I felt a certain Truth resonating within me.
Well, suddenly setting a new personal best record of a 28-minute run didn’t seem like the biggest part of my day.
How could it?
After all, I’d just spent 28 straight minutes running with God.