Grammatically speaking, it’s “It is I, your long-lost pal.” Subjective/verb (intransitive linking)/predicate nominative/appositive. Though the first run of the season can make a person feel like an object: me. Better yet: meh…
February heatwaves have a stoking effect on ego, however, so out I went, Nikes laced, shorts short, cracker-munching son strapped to jogging stroller. I may or may not have offered him protective glasses for wind shear, such was my confidence. Approximately thirty-seven strides later found me doubled over, hand on post. Any excuse to stop the pain. Are my son’s hands cold? They must be cold, I better fix that. Now they’re too warm. I’ll just pull off to the side here until they cool down.
Not twenty minute in, I shuffled homeward, drenched, dizzy, defeated. Great, I thought, I’ve buried the fitter me for this, a wheezing, semi-conscious thirty-something to whom his son offers one last sympathy sip of whole milk. I suppose I’m lamenting the collision between the idealized and the actual. I’m not a runner anymore. Four months ago, yes. Now, no way. And the road back there seems 7,000 miles of knee-grindy, lower back-knotty Dantean inferno. Forget Nikes. Find bright red Netflix icon instead; Stranger Things Season 2 should be here any minute.
Where the heck went my willpower?
Research tells us it still exists. Crept over and leafy with ground ivy but there. Lethargy has merely waylaid its assertiveness. Not to worry says the American Psychological Association (APA), willpower is comparable to muscle, and “while muscles become exhausted by exercise in the short term, they are strengthened by regular exercise in the long term. Similarly, regularly exerting self-control may improve willpower strength.” All I need do, then, is persist.
Were it not for that sinking feeling, I’d relish the simplicity. PERSIST, all caps! Ex nihilo nihil fit!
In reality “to persist” sounds inconceivable, like that Grammy I’ve been meaning to win or those five teensy inches until I can dunk. Preposterous. Unthinkable. Futile.
Not so fast says APA. There may be a solution: a little something psychologists refer to as an “implementation intention.” They are valuable tactics often in “the form of ‘if-then’ statements that help people plan for situations that are likely to foil their resolve.” Next jog, for example, I may tell myself, “If I get too tired to continue, then I’ll walk 30 paces after which I’ll start running.” Or even, “If I get a cramp, then I’ll continue for 10 seconds before I stop, stretch, and begin again.” Research suggests that by enunciating implementation intentions ahead of time self-control improves and willpower strengthens.
To be candid, I have yet to test the advice, though I am framing a few implementation intentions as we speak. If on that slow, motivation-killing curve I feel like turning back, then I’m going to sing the 1975 hit song “Why Can’t We Be Friends” twice through. And if the trouble spot in my lower lumbar starts acting up, then I’m going to take my son out of the jogger and do good mornings with him until I get three squeals of delight. That should do it.
Sure, this method may seem less than scientific, but it is hard to quantify as human a thing as persistence. For some to persist means to face down adversity. For others it’s akin to acceptance, embracing circumstance and enduring. For others yet, persistence looks something like distraction, tricking the self in ever expanding increments. And what better way to do that than in earshot of a snickering child. Joy has a funny way of making the intolerable seem almost amusing.