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How Sports Can Make You More Productive at Work

Woman running in the city

I’ve liked running most of my life. I ran to clear my head, to get somewhere faster, or for the sake of getting exercise. All of those are great reasons to run, but running took on a totally different form when I started running as a sport – when I added a long term goal to my casual jog.

When I first picked out a race, payed for it, and told all my friends I was going to run it, I didn’t know how much time I was going to spend training. I definitely didn’t know how all that training was going to change me and, in particular, the way I do my work.

Perseverance

A runner makes a training schedule to build up the endurance for a long race or to acquire the physiological changes needed to run fast. This requires consistency and the strength to persevere through hardship. If you want to reach the goal, you have to stick to the schedule. You have to stick to it even when you’re sick of it, when you’re tired, busy, or overwhelmed with life. Sometimes you’d rather be doing anything but running and, yet, you run anyway because you know you need to if you want to meet your goal.

Runners become so good at persisting that, even in work, it becomes second nature. There are people we don’t like, projects we don’t like, and days we don’t want to be there but we work anyway because we have goals.

Tolerance to pain

Running can be really painful. Long runs can be painful, track workouts can be painful, and the soreness afterwards, immobilizing. But even though you’re sore, you have to get out there and do it again in a day or two. When you get a side stitch during a race, have stomach cramps, or blisters, you can’t just stop because it hurts. You have to keep going.

Work can be painful too and successful business people have a high tolerance to it. Knowing that pain is temporary and that the gains are worth it is a skill learned in training.

Fighting the desire to quit

At some point in training, runners usually consider quitting. You start to wonder if your goals are really worth all the effort. But you remember the reasons you run — how important it is to your health, how fun it is on good days, the friends you’ve made, your achievements. You get really good at focusing on those positive thoughts even when you want to quit, and always come out a runner on the other side.

Knowing how to focus on a goal and the reason you’re pursuing it is a skill needed to succeed. Over the course of our careers, we have to do a lot of things we don’t like and we have to do them without quitting. Making it in business is sometimes just a matter of sticking it out. Even when life hasn’t taught this skill, running definitely helps develop it.

Pacing

One of the lessons runners figure out quickly is to slow down. When energy is high, it’s easy to run fast, but any runner that takes off too fast will crash. You have to pace yourself to endure the full distance. In a race, you must be disciplined and hold back the desire to keep up with your peers, most of whom won’t be able to keep the pace all the way to the finish line.

Pacing is all about discipline and controlling urges. In business, you see your peers sprinting to succeed and taking big risks to get there. As a runner, you know that when you’re in it for the long haul, this strategy probably won’t pay off.

Flexibility

Sometimes, no matter how well you prepare for a run, something goes wrong. You under-dress, over-dress, get lost, get stuck in the rain, run out of water. Anything can happen, and you just have to deal with it.

When we get a little too comfortable in our careers, we just want to keep everything going smoothly. When it doesn’t, we can get awfully frustrated. Runners face difficulties regularly and know very well that difficult times always settle down. If we just let go of our expectations of a perfect world, we can much better tolerate its imperfect moments.

Self confidence

Even after you’ve developed the toughness, you’ve learned how to roll with the punches, and you don’t go out too fast, if you don’t believe in yourself, you will have a hard time convincing yourself to stick with it. Self doubt can be paralyzing. You have to know you’re capable of making it through the hard times. Knowing that just takes practice. There is little that most of us can’t handle. Training gives us the confidence to know that we are capable and that perseverance and hard work is all we need to be good at anything.

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