A few weeks ago, our son Aubrey was in town, and he and I decided to go out for a run. We both are pretty serious runners; I've trained for and run a marathon, and usually do about twenty miles per week, and he has run several half marathons.
I started running in college, initially to try and deal with extra pounds that stubbornly refused to depart my body. It worked, and in the process I realized how much I loved running. I had not been an athletic child; I was neither fast nor agile, putting me at the end of the list of people seeking teammates. So this new hobby was a surprise, and I've kept it going ever since.
Having grappled with depression and anxiety all my life (like many of you, no doubt), I rely on running to flood my body with chemicals that are handy for fighting these conditions. So it was with great dismay several months ago that I noticed my left knee beginning to complain like a whiny child. I mentioned this to my physician, and he suggested (to my horror) that I switch to the elliptical machine at the gym I attend.
I went overboard on Google after that; surely there must be a better way to solve this pesky knee problem! Of course, there were all sorts of dire warnings about running on a knee that was not one hundred per cent. I started to do prescribed pre-running exercises that strengthened and stretched my quads (the big muscles in the thigh), and I wore a supportive elastic bandage during running.
Aubrey has made himself into something of a kinesthetic expert, having worked for years with a sports trainer. So, the day we went out, he took a look at my stride.
"You're swinging your right foot way out of alignment," he commented. "That means your other leg is absorbing a lot more of the load."
Sure enough, when I brought the leg into a better alignment, things felt better right away. It's been about a week since that small change, and so far, so good.
Why am I telling you about my running woes, when this Substack is supposed to be about creativity and writing? When we make small changes in anything in our lives, it's going to impact how everything turns out. I believe a lot of us think our changes have to be big to work, but I've found that it rocks the boat so much that we can't pinpoint how the change actually worked.
I took a behavioral and self-improvement course many years ago. One of the ideas the teacher drove home is that if you're trying to accomplish something and it isn't working, make a small change. That's the first part of the equation. The second part, and the one I think gets overlooked, is to notice what works. We can try lots of changes in our lives, but if we're not paying attention, we won't ever see what is actually paying off.
Sure, sometimes we all need to dump everything and start over, and that can be cathartic, or not. But most of the time, it's a small change that's required, and that's healthier for your mind and body. We’ve all heard of people who quit their job as a hedge fund manager and went to work at a winery, or whatever. But, it's healthier for your mind and body to take gradual steps. In this world of instant everything, we need to slow down and notice. Our frantic pace causes us to miss a lot of life, and a lot of opportunity to grow.
My novel about the orchestra industry had been in the works for ten plus years. I read it aloud at reading groups, I sent it to people, I forced my husband to read new chapters – the feedback was….sort of good….people seemed to like my writing style, and also seemed intrigued with a peek into a world they didn’t know well. But that does not a great story make! Someone even said, “Why should I care about this person?” Ouch, but I was grateful for the honesty.
I decided I needed help, and signed up for Story Grid, an online writing class. After two years, I now know what was missing: I had no outline. I had no idea where the story was going! I was just writing and writing, with my poor characters slogging through their lives like actors without a director. After that, boy did I start noticing what worked! It sounds like it might have been a big change, but it actually wasn’t, and now that I know that, I can go forward again.
If something isn’t working in your life right now, make a small change and watch what happens: maybe nothing, maybe things will get worse or better, but you’ll have a lot more information than you had before the change.
Be brave, be smart, be the hero of your story; it might be a tiny shift in what you’re already doing. And that might make all the difference.