Starting Slow, Finishing Strong
This mama needs to start slow. In college, I used to be able to roll out of bed, slide on my shoes, and hit the pavement at a 6-something-minute pace. Emphasis here on used to. The funny thing is that college for me was not even that long ago, I am just three years out, but my sense of pace has already greatly shifted, both in a literal and figurative sense. My pace in terms of running has definitely changed. My current pace now is what I used to think of as a slow, shakeout run. But it is not just running, it is an overall life pace that I can feel is shifting as I type this. In college, it was about going. It was about jumping into cold pools before the sun rose. It was about midnights in libraries and drinking coffee at 1am. It was about miles and miles; pages on pages; words upon words. It was all about speed and getting things done. Trust me, I am still all about getting things done and accomplished, but my pace is entirely different. I need to start slow. I need to warm-up. I need to lie in bed just a few extra minutes and wake up as I read just a couple pages. I need to sit and sip in silence. I need to stay in pajamas just a bit longer. I need to hold my baby and not worry about my to-do list for just a few moments longer. I need to take it slow.
I am all about the slower starts, the lazy mornings, the clear schedules. My whole essence thirsts for the slower pace. This easing into things is becoming essential to me. It is essential for how I run and also how I live. The danger in this, however, is when we stay in the slow and never learn to shift gears into the uncomfortable. I start slow, but I never finish there. While starting slow is key to me, shifting gears into uncomfortable speeds is also required. I was reminded of this inherit need for speed (ignore the cliche rhyme) last week when I returned to the track. My feet literally have not touched a track in just about 3 years. Last time I was on a track was June 2016 in Kansas for my last collegiate 5k. So, it has been some time. And I could feel this separation. I was doing a 10 by 400 meter workout with my dad so kindly agreeing to take my splits. The first one felt raw and scary and too fast. The second, third and fourth felt like I had made a mistake in choosing to workout at the track. The fifth and sixth one felt completely numb, yet still painful. But it was the seventh one that made sense. It was in that seventh 400 meters that I hit my stride. I felt back at home. I remembered the turns and the straight aways and where to settle and where to push. Don’t get me wrong. The 7th-10th 400 were still painful and uncomfortable, but by number 7 I knew I would finish. I knew I would not slow down. Is this not life? It is hard, hard, hard, and then you hit a point of endurance. It does not necessarily get easy, but it becomes endurable. You become stronger, more confident, and more fierce, that by number 7 you know you are not stopping.
It is a great balancing act to create a life that holds both the slow and the burning speed. It takes trial and error. There are days that will feel too slow and days that have way too much intensity. So you adjust. You learn. You create good patterns and break the ones that always put you into ruts. I am learning that timing and structure are key elements in helping me balance the slow with the quick. Here are 5 things that help me achieve this balance:
- Start Day Slow
I need to start my days at a very slow pace. If I know I have a commitment or somewhere to be early, I get up even earlier to allow for the space to wake up. I no longer can just roll out of bed. I need time. I need coffee. I need scripture. I think a huge part of being able to work hard throughout the day is allowing the start of the day to be slow and gentle, not rushed and frantic.
2. List and Schedule
I am a list-oriented person. I really struggle when I do not have lists to guide me. I am always at the grocery store or Target, with a list in hand. Even if it is the smallest errand, if I don’t write down: puffs, detergent, tea, and salad, I will become distracted or waste time. Lists keep me focused. I need them. The same is true with my days. As a teacher, I was my most productive self because I have the schedule of bells ringing throughout the day that kept me extremely structured. As a stay-at-home mom, I must create these bells on my own. For those mamas that work in the home, it can be so easy to waste our days. It is essential to list out the “work” that must be done. Not only list out what needs to happen in that day, but schedule it in so you know exactly when it will happen. This helps keep me focused, so when I am doing the work elements, I am not thinking about yoga class and when I am in yoga, I am not thinking about laundry or dishes. This is the ideal mindset and I don’t always succeed, but this is the goal. List and schedule, so the lines of work and rest don’t run and bleed into each other.
3. Commit and Don’t Back Down
For me, one of the most important practices when balancing working hard and resting well is making sure I stay committed. It is so easy to back down and choose the easy route. It is so much easier to not do the hard work. It is also very easy to skip your time of rest and choose to do “the more important” things. Achieving balance happens best when we keep our commitments. Once I start backing out of commitments, I easily begin to fall into ruts. Even on the crazy, full days, if I have a workout scheduled, I need to follow through. It is that simple.
4. Schedule Rest
This is one I am trying to currently figure out. Rest does not come naturally to me. I am learning that if I don’t schedule it, just like I would something important, like a meeting or a workout, it won’t happen. Some days I follow through and take this time of rest seriously, while others I ignore it and prioritize other things. Part of starting slow, and finishing strong, means that there also must be a middle time of slow and quiet and calm. For me, this does not usually mean taking a nap at 1pm. It looks more like grabbing a book and getting off my feet for 15 minutes. It looks like stopping. It looks like sitting. It looks like espresso in my favorite mug right after Hudson falls asleep for his final nap. It ultimately looks like surrendering to the Lord and relying on His strength, not my own work and capabilities and production.
5. Finish Strong
In a race, the goal is always to finish strong. No matter how fast you started or even if you lost a shoe in the first 100 meters, finishing strong is what matters. Just like certain runs, I end my days on burn out. I collapse. I stop. I trudge my feet. This is not what I want for my life. I want to end each day stronger than when I woke up. And sometimes I fail. I hit a wall and waste hours watching the Bachelor. I hate how I do this, but it is the truth. I don’t always finish my days strong. I sometimes, oftentimes, crawl into bed, emptied and exhausted and fixed to a screen. The best ways for me to avoid this place is to set limits on work and screens, so by 8 or 9 pm, I can fill up, spend time with Lance, and rest in knowing that enough has been done. If I don’t have clear time limits, I can quickly crumble into a place of weakness and mindlessness.
There is a time for the slow and a time for the head down, grinding, uncomfortable pace too. I have strong tendencies to live in the extremes. I have days where I stay in pajamas too long. I have days where I am-consumed with work and cleaning. Some days I get it terribly wrong, today might be one of those, but my prayer for today is that I can continue to strive at living a more balanced pace, so I can ultimately be more in-tune to the Lord’s will for my life.