First, start; then go, bird by bird

In the 25 years I’ve been a runner, I’ve noticed a few things.

I’ve noticed I always feel better after a run than I did before; I’m always glad I ran.

I’ve noticed more about cities – street art, interesting buildings, beautiful parks, people walking dogs – than I would ever have noticed from a vehicle.

And I’ve noticed that in January, I see runners I’ve never seen before. It’s the annual arrival of the New Year’s Resolution runners.

By February, they’re gone.

As we get our 2020 goals on track – personally, professionally, organizationally – let’s remember two very important keys to achieving them: The first is to start; the second is to continue.

This week a friend posted a talk from author Anne Lamott about what she’s learned in life. One item in particular struck home. It deals with writing and other creative endeavors, but it could apply to any pursuit.

“Every writer you know writes really terrible first drafts,” Lamott says. “But they keep their butt in the chair. That’s the secret of life. That’s probably the main difference between you and them. They just do it. They do it by prearrangement with themselves. They do it as a debt of honor.”

She tells a story about her older brother, who as a fourth grader became overwhelmed by a term paper about birds. Their dad told him, “Just take it bird by bird, buddy. Just read about pelicans, and write about pelicans in your own voice. Then find out about chickadees, and tell us about them in your own voice. Then geese.”

Those New Year’s Resolution runners are good about starting. Continuing is tough.

Several years ago, a friend decided to take up running. He tried going a mile on his first run, but couldn’t finish. He tried again, and again. Finally, he got frustrated and quit.

Most people want immediate results. But it takes time, discipline, and patience. When I started running, I could go only a couple of blocks. (And only at night – I didn’t want the neighbors seeing me.) But a friend told me to run those two blocks every day, until it felt comfortable. Then, go three, and repeat. And keep building, block by block. Eventually, you’ll go a mile, he said. Then two.

In sizing up your 2020 goals, don’t get overwhelmed by the enormity. First, start. Then continue. Bird by bird, block by block.

Russ Florence is a partner of Schnake Turnbo Frank. He writes a monthly column for The Journal Record.