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i What Works-i Change (Gasp!) Can (Gasp!) Be Fun

During his icy morning runs, Tom Terez discovers that talking about change is easy. Doing it? That's another story.

January 30, 2003
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On my 39th birthday, after eating two huge pieces of my favorite pistachiocake, I decided to make a seemingly simple lifestyle change. "It's going to bea new me during the coming year," I announced. "No more three pieces of cakeper sitting-only one."

    Everyone laughed and clapped. "Whatever you say!" Someone passed me a thirdpiece of cake.

    "I'm going to start jogging, too," I said.

    Suddenly, silence filled the room. "Yep, I'm going to startrunning."Silence. "As in jogging up and down the streets, getting in shape." Moresilence. "Anyone want to join me?"

    No one did, but that didn't stop me. At 5 o'clock the next morning, I woke upwith the birds for my first run in at least five years. I figured it would beeasy-an inaugural 15-minute canter around a few suburban blocks. Was I ever infor a shock. My "simple" lifestyle change quickly turned into a painfulexercise in change management, full of lessons for those of us who want toachieve better results, whether we're talking physical fitness or managerialvigor.

    I started with a brisk walk, then speeded up to a slow run. The first fiveminutes were exhilarating. The next five were sobering. And the third fiveminutes were excruciating. My strides turned into a clumsy cadence ofstep-step-gasp, step-step-gasp. Three thoughts kept running through my head: (1)My bed is way better than this. (2) There must be a better way to get in shape.(3) I don't have any ID, so if and when I collapse, the EMT people won't have aclue whom to contact. (Lesson #1: Get started, no matter how much it hurts.)

    As soon as I stopped, my mind started messing with me. "This running thingis way too tough," I'd say to myself one moment. "It's no fun. It hurts.Forget it. Take up walking or checkers." The next moment I'd be cheering myselfon. "You can do it! It's just running. And it'll get easier." Then I'd chidemyself. "Are you gonna be a quitter? Don't be a quitter. Get out and run likethe wind!" (Lesson #2: Expect doubt. Just don't let it win.)

    Two days later I was back out there, but running like the wind? Not unlesswe're talking about very slow, heaving-type winds. I went through the requisitestretching and warm-up walking, but 20 minutes into my run, I had two thoughtsin mind: (1) Is it possible for the human heart to beat so robustly that theentire organ literally bursts through the rib cage? (2) Thank goodness Iremembered to bring my ID.

    After regaining my breath, I started thinking again about change management.Rationally, I knew I had a noble goal: to get in better shape. But what about myapproach to achieving the goal? Was I on the right track with my running?(Lesson #3: Make sure your means will get you to the intended end.)

Knowing I didn't have the answer, I called a friend who's a health andfitness fanatic. I told her about my birthday resolution, and she gave me firminstructions: "Twenty minutes of running when you haven't jogged in ages? Noway! Start with walking, and build from there." But that's not exciting, Iprotested. I want to sweat. I want to know I'm getting a decent workout. "Whatyou want to do is get in shape. And you won't do that with shin splints and acardiac incident."

    The words "cardiac incident" resonated with me, so two days later I decidedto walk instead of run. I followed the same route, but it seemed so different.This time I realized that at 5 a.m., the birds are waking up, and they'resinging wonderful songs. And I noticed how the sun rises so beautifully over afarm field near our house. (Lesson #4: Reach out for advice-and follow it.)

    Mindful of my friend's counsel, I kept walking, and after a while, I added afive-minute running segment. Then I notched it up to 10 minutes, then 15, and soon. After a couple of months I could run two miles and enjoy it and notice thebirds and sunrise along the way. (Lesson #5: Savor those fringe benefits ofchange.)

    Then it happened. During an especially busy time that took me away from homefor a week, I didn't run at all. When the alarm sounded at 4:30 a.m. onSaturday, I went straight for the snooze button-and kept dribbling it until 6o'clock, when I decided to put off my run for one more day. The same thinghappened on Sunday.

    At 5 a.m. on Monday, I started my run just fine. But 15 minutes into it, Icould sense the return of step-step-gasp, step-step-gasp. This time, though, Ididn't have visions of EMT personnel huddling over my heap of a pistachio-cakebody. I turned my run into an enjoyable walk, and two days later I mixed walkingand running. Within a week I was running at my best pace and distance ever. Animprovised adjustment to my plan made all the difference. (Lesson #6: Bejudiciously flexible.)

    Seven months have passed since my birthday resolution to get in shape, andI'm happy to report that my change-management efforts are succeeding. I stillflirt with the snooze alarm some mornings, and my out-of-town work trips make iteasy to postpone the day's run. But just about every other morning, you'll findme pounding the pavement-and enjoying it. Best of all, I'm feeling great.

    The change-management lessons continue to hit home. I recently got a callfrom a manager who was desperate for a sounding board. He was struggling to getemployees more involved in improving their work processes, but their apathyseemed too great. "Our first meetings about this were so painful," he said. "I'm not sure if it's worthcontinuing." He sounded a lot like I did after myfirst couple of runs.

    We talked about the goal of having an engaged workforce. He explained hisapproach, and our conversation gave him a few new ideas. Two weeks later hecalled again. "Great news," he said. "One of our departments has formed animprovement team, and they're on the brink of some major breakthroughs. Two moredepartments are looking into doing the same."

    "Sounds like you're hitting your stride." I said.

 Workforce, February 2003, p. 22 -- Subscribe Now!

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