business of freelancing

How running changed the way I think about my business  

By December 19, 2018 June 29th, 2019 19 Comments

I have never been a runner. In fact, I’m not really a huge fan of exercise in general. My relationship with exercise has always been sporadic – I’ve played tennis, gone swimming, done a couple of years when I was really into spin classes, dabbled in yoga, but apart from a three month stint when I was 15, I’ve never been a runner. But recently I took up running and had an epiphany that changed the way I look at my business.

How running changed the way I think about my freelance writing business

You might be thinking, what does running have to do with writing? Bear with me.

I love the idea of running – its simplicity, the flexibility of it, but I’ve always found that almost as soon as I start running, I want to stop.

I’m someone who likes structure and courses to guide me through certain experiences so I downloaded the Couch to 5km app.

I first tried it last year and made it through the first couple of weeks, but about two weeks in I got sick with a heavy cold and stopped following the program.

I decided to give it another try five months ago (I know, it took me a while to get back on the horse), but I ended up injuring my ankle, which took me a few months to recover from.

All the while, I was telling myself, I’m just not built for running.

I thought: My injury, the fact that I don’t enjoy it, that I’m not good at it, that running is hard for me – these are all signs that I’m not meant to be a runner.

It’s easier to quit than to continue.

I was full of self doubt.

And then I hit a bump in my business.

The thing is, I didn’t handle this bump the way that I should have.

I’m not going to detail the issue here, but let’s just say that I was in a professional situation where I really should have stuck up for myself.

I had so much going on at the time that I took the path of least resistance rather than having a difficult and uncomfortable conversation with the other person.

For days afterwards, I was so cross with myself that I hadn’t been more courageous (like my friend Ginger Gorman) and stuck up for myself.

That experience made me determined to get a bit tougher, braver and stick with things even if they are difficult.

Just after this happened, I began the running program for the third time.

I’m now eight weeks in and a few days ago I ran for 28 minutes without stopping.

I know that for lots of you that will be a piddly achievement, but for me, it’s a big deal.

Not necessarily because I ran for 28 minutes, but because I kept going. I persisted. It hasn’t been easy or enjoyable but I’m trying to train myself to keep doing despite discomfort.

But this post isn’t about running. Well, not really.

As I’ve been running, I’ve had so much time to reflect.

In lots of ways, running is similar to being in business.

You have some false starts and in the beginning when you have a goal you want to achieve, it’s not easy.

You feel like you’re not making enough progress, you’re not getting there fast enough.

You look around at other people and they are seemingly doing so much better than you are.

It seems easy for them.

But the thing is, you can only ever run your race.

For me, running has been about making a commitment to myself and sticking to it.

And not taking the easy way out.

Does that mean when my alarm goes off at 6am that I jump out of bed with my arms raised ready to do victory laps of the block? Um, no.

It takes almost everything I have not to turn off my alarm, close my eyes and go back to sleep.

But you know what? I can feel that I’m developing a habit.

And it started with a small commitment. 30 minutes three times a week.

As I’ve written about before, I’m quite the procrastinator, so I have to prepare the conditions so I can’t make any excuses.

I choose to go running in the morning because I know if I leave it to the afternoon or evening I will have too much time to talk myself out of it.

I get my clothes out the night before so when my alarm goes off, I get up, get changed into them right away, have a drink of water and then I’m out the door.

And as I’ve been running, I’ve been thinking about the parallels with my business.

That small efforts add up.

Over the past seven weeks, I’ve covered over 90 kilometres (55 miles) of ground.

That’s just from walking/running three times a week for half an hour.

Imagine if you did that for your business.

Imagine if three times a week for half an hour you focused on just one thing you know you need to do to make your business better.

It might be following through with your marketing efforts, it might be getting your systems in order, working on your website or portfolio.

The things that you feel like you never have time for.

I bet you’d see results.  

Maybe not fireworks and confetti results, but this is a slow burn.

This is about developing a habit that is eventually going to feel so automatic that you don’t notice that you’re doing it. Or rather, that regardless of whether you feel like doing it or not, you still do it.

That’s what I’m hoping for with my running.

In my seven years of being a freelance writer and having coached so many writers this year, and very often the thing that sets ‘successful’ freelancers apart is that they have stamina.

It’s not about going the hardest or the fastest but all about having the ability to keep on going.

Despite everything.

Putting one foot in front of the other.

Making progress isn’t about doing something once and seeing results – it’s about putting in consistent effort and eventually you might be able to do it without running out of steam.

For me, sticking with running has taught me that if you have a plan and just a bit of commitment, you really can achieve your goals.

I really started running because I wanted to test myself. I wanted to see if I could do something I really didn’t want to do and grow from it.

I’m actually looking forward to the next time I need to have a difficult conversation, because I think my tolerance for discomfort has increased tenfold.

How do you go with difficult conversations? What do you think you could achieve if you did something three times a week for 30 minutes?

19 Comments

  • I love running – I work out so many questions and problems as I run. It really clears the head. For inspiration, I can highly recommend Murakami’s https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2195464.What_I_Talk_About_When_I_Talk_About_Running

    In that book he talks about running and how it’s made his writing better. It really inspired me and helped put a framework around why I run.

  • Emma says:

    Thanks for sharing this Lindy. Running is the perfect tonic.

    My goodness, the issue of difficult conversations happens to have been my theme of the year. After a confrontation that didn’t go well (I didn’t speak up – so frustrating and demoralising), I’ve spent the year exploring how I can get better at presenting boundaries, speaking up when necessary and asserting myself firmly and appropriately (not that I would do anything inappropriate, just that you want it to be as effective as possible).

    I think this is something that most humans, particularly women, find difficult. I set out to explore this as a project this year. It would make a great article.

    I believe there’s a good book for everything, including confrontation, so I set out to do some serious reading on the topic of self assertion. My faves have been ‘Difficult Conversations’ by Stone, Patton and Heen of the Harvard Negotiation Project. It provides a crucial perspective that will allow you to stay calm in the heat of the moment. It introduces the trick of separating intention from effect. Just because someone’s words or behaviour had a particular effect on you, it doesn’t mean that effect was intentional. The crucial thing is to do a reality check and this book shows you how. It works with reasonable people having reasonable misunderstandings and needing to sort them out co-operatively.

    However, if you’re dealing with an unreasonable person I found ‘Take the Bully by the Horns’ by Sam Horn especially helpful. It pulls no punches and asks us to learn to stand up for ourselves early and clearly – to put bullies on notice. It gives really great advice on exactly what to say in a variety of situations. Again, it asks us to shift our attitude, this time from ‘reasonable’ to ‘assertive’, without getting involved in the bully’s agenda. Some of the most helpful advice I’ve used this year comes from this book. It’s changed my approach and one of my extended family relationships completely and I’m feeling much more confident in the face of difficult people or situations.

    Love Cough to 5K. Running is the perfect support for active change. There’s something about the travelling-while-thinking that makes it particularly conducive to psychological growth. It’s proven to help in the creation of new neural pathways (can’t remember where I read this but it was gold standard scientific research). The oxygenated blood, lower blood pressure, added lung capacity and stronger joints and muscles also build up the physical confidence and calmness to support self-assertion.

    Finally, in my year of growing some ovaries I went in search of something that would boost my confidence and reduce my ‘fight or flight’ reaction – you know, that slight nausea of having a physiological fear response around confrontation.

    I started Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (aged 51!), one hour, twice a week. I’m working on getting my first belt. It’s been phenomenal. Massively reassuring to know that I can have the difficult conversations I need to have in full confidence that if it were to go pear-shaped I would be able to physically stop someone bigger than me and gently immobilise them, remaining calm and steady throughout. Solid gold.

    I can’t recommend women’s self defence enough. It’s not that I think we’re all about to fall victim to physical violence, though the stats on this are clearly saying it can and does happen to so many women, in all walks of life. It’s more that as a woman it’s important to recognise how unused we are to taking up our own physical and psychological space and setting clear boundaries around them. Jiu Jitsu has completely changed how I feel about that. I’m ready for anything and therefore much more likely to say what needs to be said, no matter how difficult. A great habit to develop!

    • Lindy Alexander says:

      Emma, thank you so much for your thoughtful comment – so much of what you wrote resonated with me. I’m going to look at both those books you recommended, and I agree totally that just because we receive a comment or experience in a particular way doesn’t necessarily mean that that was the intention behind it.
      And good for you growing some ovaries – I think I often have the ‘freeze’ part of flight, fight or freeze and would like to learn some gentle ways to ease myself out of that.
      It sounds like you’ve had a big and wonderfully reflective year – if you ever do write an article about it, let me know, I’d love to read it.

      • Emma says:

        Thanks Lindy! I’ll let you know if do write about it.

        Yes, it’s the ‘freeze’ bit that’s so hard to get around. I discovered the hard way that this is exactly what I do when confronted by a bully. I recognised from the heightened emotions during the incident that the reason I always freeze is because I get physically frightened, even though it didn’t get physical. The freeze might be different for you – learning why you freeze is super helpful.

        What I learned about myself this year is that I could get great advice and psychological support but it wouldn’t change how I reacted until I felt physically safe. The self-defence was critical in combination with some brief work with a psychologist to develop ‘scripts’ – literally practicing what to say and how to say it.

        That combination has had a huge effect. I feel totally confident in myself around this family member and while he has found himself unable to apologise for trying to intimidate me, he can clearly see a change in my demeanour and is behaving cautiously.

        Best of all, no one in my family knows about my newfound skills at blocking, restraining, dropping and containing. I feel like I have a secret weapon!

        I strongly recommend practicing your verbal boundary-setting out loud, repeatedly, until you feel confident that you’ll have something to hand when the moment comes. If you can find a way to bolster this with physical preparedness, do it. Running is a great help. Learning some basic blocking, containing and escape moves never goes astray either! I plan on never having to use them but it’s great to know they’re there.

  • Vee says:

    Thank you as always for being transparent! As I start on my journey to being a full-time freelance writer, I realize that structure and discipline are going to be more important than ever! I’ve always struggled with setting boundaries and standing up for myself, but I realize, in this space of writing, that having those skills is absolutely crucial. So, I’m getting started on a physical program because I know I need it for my physical health, mental health and the success of my career. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Lindy Alexander says:

      Thanks so much Vee. I spend so much of my day sitting at a desk now that I think it’s so important to get moving – I just haven’t been very good at motivating myself to do it.
      Go well with your physical program and check back in and let us know how you’re progressing!

  • Susan Hall says:

    It never fails that I always percolate a couple of ideas on a run.

  • Erika says:

    Hi Lindy,

    Greeting from Ottawa, Canada!

    I loved this post very much! What hit home with me was the idea of thinking/ruminating as you run…I never considered that benefit despite knowing in my bones that when I walk with my dog, the inspiration flows. In fact, in November, when I did National Novel Writing Month, my best/easiest days were the ones that I walked 2km to the coffee shop. By the time I arrived, the ideas were bursting!

    I’ve been looking for a "way in" to running…and I’m going to borrow your mindset…use the time to go to wherever the writer’s mind goes and see how that impacts my business. 🙂 I’m a procrastinator too but I may really need to wait til spring for this — not sure that jogging through a Canadian blizzard is the thing to do! 😉

    Also, Emma, if you’re reading — I loved everything about your comment!

    Happy holidays,

    Erika.

    • Lindy Alexander says:

      Hi Erika, thanks so much for your comment. I love that you can see a clear connection between walking and your ideas during NaNoWriMo.
      I’m not sure that I would be jogging in a blizzard either!! Keep warm and happy holidays 🙂

  • Mariana Ruiz says:

    This was great Lindy! I did the C25K this summer and had a similar epiphany. Something about pushing and challenging myself physically translated into my work and personal life as well.

  • JoAnna says:

    I loved this article, Lindy! I started running about 8 years ago and it’s rarely been easy for me. Usually about halfway through my races, when my energy starts to flag and my pace slows way down, I start questioning why I even signed up to run in the first place. But then, once I finally cross the finish the line, I feel great! Consider it a love-hate relationship. 🙂

    I would have never thought to connect the physical act of running with running a business. Regarding your commitment to running 3 times a week for 30 minutes, I have committed to reading a chapter from a business-related book each night during the week. Just a little goes a long way!

    • Lindy Alexander says:

      Thank you so much JoAnna! Somehow it’s so reassuring to hear that running is hard for you too (and even after 8 years – what persistence you have!)
      And that’s so great that you’re reading a chapter of a business book each night – small steps add up!

  • Lauren Sargent says:

    This is an awesome article. I like how you tie in seemingly unrelated activity (running) to running a business. I also like how running teaches you how to handle certain aspect of running your business. This goes to show you how thinking outside the box is crucial to your business.

    • Lindy Alexander says:

      Thank you Lauren. Yes, it was a complete surprise to me that running would have anything to do with how I approached my freelance business. And funnily enough, I came up with the idea while I was running – very meta I know!

  • Larissa says:

    Hi Lindy, Have just taken up running too and use the same app. I wish there was a writing app that gave you similar instructions – ‘start writing,’ ‘you’re halfway there’ – ‘you’re awesome’!!!

    I find that running helps me clear my mind, gives me a sense of calm and also a lot more motivation.

    Great post as always!

    Cheers,
    Larissa

    (As a side note, got an article published in one of the magazines you suggested in our coaching session a while back. Thank you!)

    • Lindy Alexander says:

      I think you’re onto something there Larissa. Maybe you could develop the writing app?! Fantastic re your article being published – that makes me so happy, well done!!

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