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Feb 4, 2023              Chris Buckley

Jon asked, “Have you ever thought of running every day for 500 days continuously?”


David asked, “How do you not worry when you know that tomorrow you need to do something you don’t want to do”


In the second part of this "why runners run" blog we look at willpower. In part 1 we looked at intent, making grand plans, getting great ideas, and resolving to change things. There can be little doubt that planning to run each day for 500 days is a grand plan!


The fact is that ‘you’ will only do stuff you want to do. For newbie runners that often means heading out into the cold dark night. The calculation of risk versus reward is most definitely in the balance, to begin with.

In her book the 5 Second Rule, Mel Robbins says that you have just 5 seconds to act.


As soon as the idea lands - 5,

You - 4,

Have - 3,

5 seconds - 2,

to get up - 1……………

and somehow act,


or not!


For many, this starts first thing in the morning. The alarm goes and the first decision of the day is to hit snooze. Start the day by turning over and not acting. Hmmm!


Try it, the alarm goes off then count down, 5,4,3,2,1, and before 1 swing yourself out of bed. Uncannily, it does work.


Mel argues that the same ‘force’ keeping you in bed keeps you from running (and doing anything else you think you don’t want to do). And that force, though it seems it, is not real.


Jon told me he made an appointment with himself each day, His own 5-second rule. He set the time of day he would run. He learned that anything less was doomed to fail. No “sometime today” for him. It had to be a time. That way he overcame the initial invisible force of resistance and over time habit kicked in. I imagine there were many times when he thought "what happens if I can’t get my run in today?" I expect that would have caused him some anxiety!


Jon, an experienced runner already knew of the high level of reward he personally got from running, and overcoming the risk of expending energy every day with no upside, soon disappeared. (he did admit to becoming a bit obsessed though!)


But how might this link to David’s willpower?


In many ways, the same invisible force of that resistance for Jon and David is energised by fear. As with risk and reward, we automatically calculate the fictitious odds of potential pain, or worse.


The internal force sometimes shouts, “don’t!!! it’s going to be bad, you’ll be eaten alive” The voice is trying to protect.


By understanding resistance as ‘you’ trying to protect you from either pain or wasting perceived energy then you can focus your drive and tenacity toward attaining your goals.


Often the force required in overcoming the resistance to make the effort to run swim, cycle, throw your legs out of bed when the alarm goes or steeling yourself to attend a difficult meeting is directly proportional to the enjoyment felt afterwards.


As acupuncturists, we are taught that the willpower is controlled by the kidney system. The kidneys house the essence of the body's spirit and energy, the gate of life, and their Duracell battery.


Zhang Jie Bin, presumably the Ming dynasty’s equivalent to Mel Robbins said “when one thinks of something, decides on it and then acts on it, this is called will power”


When the kidneys lack this power (through old age, overwork, hedonism, chronic illness or genetically) the will is affected, and the mind is easily discouraged and swayed from its aims. Depression often ensues.  

When the kidneys have power (young, self-caring) the will and vitality for life are strong, and there is the required drive, enthusiasm, motivation, and determination.


How then do “old” runners and swimmers maintain the stamina to keep going and for some endure hardships that younger people often cannot?


Through memory and experience.

Intention and willpower alone can’t hack it when you are older. The spleen and the kidneys are critical but to find true mastery we need ‘heart’.


More on that in part three.


But for now, go back to those great ideas and intentions pick one, feel the resistance, and as Jon suggested, do SOMETHING within 5 seconds. Make an appointment with yourself, call someone, send an e-mail, make a booking, or simply physically move in the direction you must move.


If you don’t do it in 5 seconds – then you probably won’t do it at all.

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