I went for a run the other day and I didn’t track it. I didn’t start up Strava and set it to auto-pause when I stopped at street corners so that every single part of the run was monitored ‘properly’. I just put on my shoes and I ran. When I was tired, I stopped. When my friend called for a chat, I walked instead.
This probably seems simple to you, but for me it was borderline radical. That I could go for a run without measuring it, quantifying it, tracking it so that I could compare it to my previous speeds? Completely foreign territory. For me it begged the question, “Then why even do it at all?”
Which: haha! Ha. You are hilarious, Stephanie. There are (of course) tons of great reasons to go for a run, chief among them the fact that it helps soothe my anxiety, think more clearly, and get lots of fresh air and movement after sitting on my butt all day. But I hope I’m not alone when I admit that this was a revelation for me. Like many of the epiphanies I have, this one felt like an “oh, right”, rather than an “a-ha!”, but it was still important.
Am I measuring the right thing?
My whole life, I’d been measuring my runs by how fast I was going, how that speed compared to other people’s times, or whether I could do a route more efficiently than the time before. I was using workouts to measure myself against my previous performances and the results of others.
Why was I measuring in that way? Why were those my metrics?
A big part of my personal journey is learning how to reject the generic cultural standards of measurement and defining what success and joy look like for me. For ME. Not for anyone else, but for me.
Where I live, success tends to be measured in terms of things like your wealth, your relationship status, your weight, and whether or not you have a prestigious job. In interactions with others, but more importantly, in the way that I think about myself, I am compared to those standards and inevitably find myself lacking. I’m not special here, or depressed, or different: I venture that most of us measure ourselves against these impossible standards and find ourselves lacking. How could we not? We think we need to be faster, run harder, beat everyone else in the race, and be constantly doing better than we’ve ever done before. Even when we reach our goals, we find that the finish line has moved just a little bit further away.
But maybe we just need to measure different things.
When I am at my calmest and most grounded, I measure my success by how much I laugh, how peaceful and free I feel, the amount of love I have in my life, how creative I am being, how good of a listener/friend/daughter/sister I am, and how often I make time for what matters to me. That is the life I most want to live, and for me, those are the standards of measurement that count. They don’t quite match what my culture proclaims to be important, but they do match what I know to be true for myself.
In his incredible book Solitude, Michael Harris talks about how the analytics feature on Twitter changed the way he wrote, how it made him begin to pander to the whims of his audience and do more of what they ‘liked’ most. So he turned it off. He says:
The less I looked to the reactions of others, the more I interrogated the modes of expression that I had thought were “natural” to me. My online posts weren’t my “voice” at all; they were learned responses to the positive feedback of others. I wanted to dodge that now; I wanted to become my own algorithm.
I, too, want to become my own algorithm. I want to dodge my learned responses to the positive feedback of others. I want to keep my mind on what matters to me. I want to measure my runs by how much calmer I felt afterwards, or whether I let myself stop when I was exhausted instead of forcing my way through. I want to do it for the love of it.
Seems like a good philosophy for life, too: I want to do it for the love of it.