Everyone has a book in them

5 Sep

Bemidji, Minnesota, February, 2011. My son, Robb, twenty-two at the time, competed in black belt sparring. Robb caught a kick to the head that resulted in him losing the match. It wasn’t just the points that got him, it was the physical effect of the kick; he couldn’t give it the right effort the rest of the match. Afterward he noted that he wasn’t going to compete in sparring anymore: “I’m going to be an attorney, not a Taekwondo olympian, and I want to keep all the brains I can.” Good call, Robb. He’s now a year into legal practice and proving he’s got some good skill to bring to the table.

Recently I was greatly moved in reading the story of former NFL tight end Ben Utecht. Getting hurt in football is just part of the gig, right? The gig of concussions went places he’d never imagined. My son Robb played tight end in high school. Ask him some time about the spectacular head-on special teams crash he doesn’t remember, and about his rubber-legs when getting off of the bus after the game in which he continued to play after said spectacular play. The extra-big highlight reel, MVP push, often proves itself to have been a bit overboard.

A couple of days ago I read a Facebook post by a young woman who described herself as inactive and rather overweight; with excitement and trepidation, she is undertaking a walk-to-run program to get fit. She posted the program for others to see. I’m not a runner of any notable degree, but my thought in reading the program she presented was that she is likely setting herself up for failure, if not injury. It’s too much too fast. As one experienced trainer I personally know who has worked with world-class athletes puts it, “Running is something you do once you get fit, not something you do in order to get fit.” That young woman will likely complete the program and feel a sense of accomplishment, but that positive could very likely come with aftereffects. But, that’s just part of the gig, right? More overkill that can build up over time.

There is lots of evidence from serious runners, triathletes and strength trainees that cutting back on training intensity, time, distance, reps, sets, even in half, actually leads to greater improvement and increased performance. So many people are training way past the point of diminishing returns, even to the point of inhibiting progress, never mind fostering chronic injury. Its appears less and easier, but done consistently, can often be better.

It seems human nature to go for overkill, to get caught up in the big rush, often followed by a big pause or big nothing. From mountaintop to valley. From activity to inactivity. Me? Super-diligent diet then crappy eating, rather than just modest, decent eating most of the time. Hard training — too much — occasional injury — then no training. I don’t know about you, but I’ve not always trusted small, consistent steps and actions, steady progress.

What do we we expect for an ultimate outcome in a couple’s relationship that cycles from taking-for-granted or disrespect to MakeItUpSpecialEffortLoveyDoveyI’mSorryI’llBeBetter back to neglect and apathy? All of the special actions and apologies, getaway weekends or make-up You-Know-What ultimately don’t make up for the lack of day-to-day consistency of attention, respect, validation and appreciation.

Safety training at work? It doesn’t matter how many special, all-day trainings get done if the attitude and culture of safety in-between is not there. Forty-five days without an accident? How about an attitude of, “We don’t have accidents.”

What about the big one-or-two-day communication or leadership seminar at work.”That training was great!” Emphasis on was. Back in the saddle at work, and back to default mode, right ? Sorry; follow up support costs extra. Or, now you can register for Communication 201.

I’ve been on amazing ten-day training trips to Korea, and I’ve squandered the opportunity to really take advantage of all that could have offered upon my return. “One of these days I have to go over those notes of what we did on those mornings.” “I should really practice and master those techniques we learned.” “That stuff was awesome; I should integrate that into my daily routine.”

A big training at work, a special occasion with one’s lovey, a big race, a hard training session or week, can all be good, and seem to be part of the long-term dynamic of learning, insight, growth, challenge, pride, fulfillment, accomplishment. The problem is too many of us — working professionals, athletes, couples, organizations — rely on the big hit or big push and a hearty pat-ourselves on the back, and then we settle back down into the valley.

When I think about any progress I’ve made in whatever area, it’s the basic, small, consistent steps and changes every day that lead to solid, real, sustainable, long-term change and betterment. Just showing up for class and just practicing within one’s means can lead to a lot of development over time. One of the most disappointing Taekwondo students is the former athlete: thirty-one years old, now rather sedentary, not in nearly as good shape as he used to be. A decade removed from high school or college sports glory, he tries to kill it in class. Then he drops out, declaring, “I’m too old for this.” Or he gets hurt — hurts himself — and never gets back into training.

Is the fulfillment of winning some fights or making the highlight reel more important than a future legal career or life-after-football with a family? How about getting to forty-plus years of marriage: support, respect, and care for your partner in some small way, every day. What about better communication or leadership at work? Intentional, small, consistent actions every day: listen, observe, support, validate, etc. Sure, do the big training, but have a plan for ongoing, consistent action and change afterwards. Particularly in this area, small actions can be big steps.

I’ve come to see and seek progress as small, incremental action: one perhaps slightly more challenging walk-jog, one perhaps slightly more challenging yoga session, one perhaps slightly more challenging strength training session, one Taekwondo class with just perhaps a bit more focus than the last class, a day today wherein I intentionally listen perhaps a bit more so that I can learn and lead a tad better.

The thought I now carry is to leave my mark each day on one single page of paper, and then add it to the stack. Simple, intentional. Just one page a day, one day at a time. After a year, that’s a stack of 365 pages: an entire book! Then on to the next book. But, I want to be sure to write those simple, single pages each day, otherwise there’s no book to come.

What will your one page be today? Write it. Just one page. Then keep it up, each day. Add it to the stack.


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