The Practice is the goal

To “Practise” is the way

As I explore the concept of Mastery more and more, a lot is getting revealed, which has at one level, shattered preconceived notions and at another level given me a calm and peace like never before !

For me excellence was to think of a goal that inspired and challenged me and then put in heart and soul to make it happen. I have done that in various aspects of my life — from learning new subjects, turning my health around to starting to run marathons for the very first time in my life.

A big learning that I take from all my experiences is that areas which have sustained in my life are the ones which didn’t suffer from “Goal-itis”.

After getting my very first Marathon finisher’s medal — Chicago 2011

Let’s take Running for example. I have never been into anything active and sporty in my entire life, so after losing a lot of weight and turning my health around 5 years ago, I decided to channelise that new found enthusiasm into running. There was so much adrenaline and resulting momentum, that I rapidly transitioned from a 5k park run to attempting my first half marathon in a matter of 5 weeks ! That was just the beginning. I did more half marathons and kept raising the bar on the goal- ended up running a half marathon in another country ( Sydney, Australia) and within 14 months of my very first run in life, I successfully ran my first proper Marathon in Chicago ( Oct 2011), Because I had got through the hard to get in lottery, I ran the NYC marathon the very next month ! People and friends generally thought I was crazy ! Because I managed to finish both these first marathons in a good time ( less than 4:30 hrs), I happened to qualify for the world famous ultra-marathon — Comrades, South Africa which is a 89 km full of hill ups and downs race which has to be completed in 12 hours !

If you had asked me to breathe, and ask me why I was doing it, I probably didn’t have an answer. At one level, it seemed a very brave goal and at the other level, I seemed to be ignoring various cries of help my body was giving me with an injury in almost every marathon that I was particpating-I ran 2 more after Chicago and NYC ! Mumbai ( because I had only run the half marathon — so how can I not run the full ??) and Pondicherry ( which I truly enjoyed as it was a forest trail run). I did all these 4 marathons in 5 months. And I was blessed with injury in almost every one of them ! But, more importantly, did I pause to learn from them ? No, I didn’t have the patience as I had a goal !! I had to run the Comrades.

And it all went downhill from there ! I got a knee injury in one of my practice runs on the hills going down hill ! I decided to rest it for 3 weeks-and see if I should go for the race. I decided to go. After barely running 10 km, the pain in the knee came shooting back, and for the first time in this 18 month running journey, I felt the pain of “not going to finish a race”. I struggled and with some false hope managed to reach the half way point-which was not exactly easy — but because of the injury, my pace had slowed down and I lost time and I was stopped before the half way point as I had not reached in time for the cut off !!

That was the biggest blessing in disguise. If I had made it past the half way point, there was a 20 km stretch of mostly downhill, which would have destroyed my knee beyond its current state of anguish.

It was a very disappointing experience for me at the time. I didn’t finish. I didn’t get a finisher’s medal to add to the 8 that I had accumulated in the last 18 months ! I had lost perspective.

Its only later that I started piecing all of this together and today, I am most grateful for the turn of events.

I now realise that I loved ( and still love) running. If I had just focused on the “Practice” of running and kept the “goal” of getting better and better, I would have strengthened all those body areas which were crying out for help and causing injuries.

Well, its never too late, and that’s the focus of my fitness journey. To get better and better — progress continuously with no event to distract or derail me anymore ! The races were not bad per se, but getting carried away by them and making them my sole goals was ! I should have used them as blips in the practice calendar and should have only served as indicators of progress for me and not the other way around !

I am at so much peace with all this now. In the last 2 years, I have been running with that focus-enjoy and progress little by little.

I know that there are so many areas of my life which would benefit from this approach !

Here’s a video from Brian Johnson covering the book The Practicing Mind by Thomas M Sterner ! Enjoy and practise it ! ☺