Shorter strides, faster progress

A couple of years ago, I started running for exercise, and I’ve tried to be consistent with it. I quickly built up to longer distances and durations than when I started, but then I hit a plateau and stayed there for a year or more. I found it difficult to increase my endurance beyond a certain point, and I found it particularly difficult to increase my speed.

Then I went for a run with a friend who has been running for years and is in excellent shape, and I asked him to critique my running.

“If you take shorter strides than you’re taking now and let your feet move more quickly,” he advised, “you’ll last longer and your running speed will pick up.”

That hadn’t occurred to me before. I hadn’t been trying to move in any particular manner, but just let my body take me where and how it would. When I started paying attention and focusing on taking smaller steps, I found that I didn’t really have to try to move more quickly; it just happened. The change wasn’t dramatic, but enough for me to tell I was making progress.

Now my running has definitely improved. My breathing is less labored, my energy level stays higher, and my speed is increasing. This morning I ran the same distance on the track where I made my discovery, and did so in considerably less time, even without consciously trying. Best of all, I didn’t feel like I was straining, struggling, and short of breath. I felt relaxed and enjoyed it from start to finish. In fact, I felt that I could have just as easily kept running.

While praying one morning shortly after my discovery, it occurred to me that I should test the same principle in other areas of my life, particularly my work. I like to think of myself as a “get things done” person, but I have to admit that I have a problem with procrastinating. It’s not that I’m lazy. I’m happy to work hard and put in the hours, and I relish few things more than completing a project. Yet I find myself habitually avoiding the initial dig into large or long-term jobs, often putting them off until I have to cram to meet a deadline.

Recently I figured out why I do that: I’ve always assumed that I needed to make progress on big projects in big strides. But Jesus helped me see that by applying my running principle to my work, with smaller steps I could maximize efficiency, move more quickly, cover the same distance in less time and with less effort, and not be so exhausted at the end.

I no longer wait until I can clear a seven-day block on my calendar before starting a seven-day project. If I have an hour or two today, I can use that time and make a start—a small stride. Then I can work on it a bit tomorrow—another small stride—and a bit more the next day and the next. Working that way, I find myself getting to the end of what initially seemed like a daunting project, even without having devoted huge blocks of time. And I don’t feel like I’ve run a marathon. The job got done because I picked away at it little by little. And as it’s happening, I can breathe! I’m not desperately playing catch-up. I’m not struggling to get in the mileage. I’m learning that sometimes the best and most lasting improvement is made not in one dramatic move, but bit by bit and step by step. Shorter strides make for faster progress.

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You can’t make yourself grow spiritually. It doesn’t come by self-effort. It comes by living close to Jesus, living in His Word, soaking up His love, being filled with His Spirit, and engaging in heart-to-heart communication with Him.—Virginia Brandt Berg (1886–1968)

Getting organized in the normal routines of life and finishing little projects you’ve started is an important first step toward realizing larger goals. If you can’t get a handle on the small things, how will you ever get it together to focus on the big things?—Joyce Meyer (b. 1943)
Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.—Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890)

Happy is he who makes daily progress and who considers not what he did yesterday but what advance he can make today.—Jerome (c.347–420)