Why do setting and keeping internal boundaries matter? Advice from B2B copywriter, Ed Gandia

Georgia-based B2B copywriter, blogger, podcaster and coach, Ed Gandia, has produced some great marketing materials during the past  decade or so in which I have followed him. I “met” him by reading the influential book, The Wealthy Freelancer (that Ed co-wrote with my former coach, Steve Slaunwhite), and through their shared work in the “International Freelancers’ Academy.

Ed finds as much fascination in issues of entrepreneurial well-being as I do, and he regularly shares his research and insights on it.

Recently, I listened to a program he published on the importance of setting and keeping our own mental boundaries, as solo professionals, so that work does not take over all the time (and then some!) that we have. Ed cites “Parkinson’s Law,” that “work will expand to take up all available time,” if we let it. And nothing good follows.

For instance, if we make a habit of working on weekends, and don’t respect our own need for rest and to be with families and friends, we break the limits that we set for ourselves, leaving us prone to exhaustion and burn-out.  Our families express their disappointment and anger (or, if they’re children, they act out).

There’s nothing new to this observation, as psychotherapists, psychoanalysts and other mental health specialists wrote about “boundary violations” at least three decades ago. But Ed’s program caused me to pause because he describes how negotiating our own inner boundaries can be challenging, specifically because we are subject to both false guilt (FG) and true guilt (TG). Both forms of guilt can dog the outcome when we break our own boundaries.

True guilt (TG), Ed observes, results when we make mistakes or blunders that show that we lack internal integrity. For instance, we double-book meetings by mistake. Or we “mess up” by submitting work that was not our best, due to time constraints. TG makes us resolve the problem or fault the best we can by making amends (especially trying to learn from the mistake, so as not to repeat it), forgiving ourselves and moving on. It’s not a comfortable feeling, but it is finite in duration.

False guilt (FG), by contrast, is a learned response, triggered by a demand outside of ourselves that we could not or did not meet. This kind of guilt is unreasonable (i.e. you cannot reason with it, logically). It is also inappropriate (the guilt persists, unfairly) and unhealthy. FG makes us feel terrible and like a record stuck in a groove, causes us to blame and berate ourselves (e.g. constantly saying what we “should” do or have done). Ed calls this “should-ing all over ourselves!” There are no options available when one has FG, because you feel guilty in either case, and that is key to its destructive power.

The reason I mention Ed’s distinction between these forms of guilt (that date back to early writings of psychoanalysis) is that anyone who works creatively must be especially vigilant about FG. It leaves our minds stuck, like the proverbial needle in the groove of a record, so we feel there are “no other options available.” When you continue to feel guilty, despite having already apologized to anyone else involved, you have a problem.

Ed reminds us that when we feel FG, we override our internal boundaries, protecting others’ feelings and needs, to a pathological extent, above our own. In simple terms, we allow a client who calls in a rush order on 3:00 pm on Friday, due the following Tuesday, because, well, they’re a repeat client and we can cancel our planned outing with the kids. (Obviously, worse suffering and loss will ensue from decisions made in FG.) 

While TG is a necessary experience when we fall short, learn and grow from our failures, FG can overwhelm us with self-abuse that never goes anywhere positive. Whether we call our internal needs and commitments “boundaries” or not, Ed’s observation that they are often tied to our guilt reflect how genuine they are and that they warrant our respect.

And now it’s your turn. If you analyze your behaviour at work and at home, where do you find true and false guilt arising? How do they help or hinder your internal boundaries? And what effect does each have on your business and life?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Want to close more sales but afraid of the process? A short course in sales from Gerry Black, in this week’s blog posting . . .

It’s an understatement these days to say that entrepreneurs hate selling.  What’s behind that? Many of us have deeply ingrained stereotypes (usually dating from childhood and reinforced by our education system) that sellers are con-men or women, using pushy, sleezy tactics to manipulate buyers into deals the buyers would later regret. 

The stereotype of the “con man”-sales person may be familiar to you through the TV character, Herb Tarlek, sales manager at “WKRP (radio station) in Cincinnati,” in the late 70s/early 80s show of the same name.  Herb kept the financially strapped radio station afloat by currying favour with questionable advertisers, including one owner whose diet pills turned out to be narcotics! Tarlek’s ethically questionable and generally obnoxious sales strategies were perfectly reflected in his atrocious fashion sense—billious, plaid polyester suits, always paired with a shiny white belt and shoes. Could anyone exude more sleaze?

Tarlek made for great TV, but his character reflects the anxiety many of us entrepreneurs have of selling. Even when our services are first-rate and expertly delivered. Many of us lack a “sales mindset,” so we feel inadequate when asking for “the buy.” We fear prospects will perceive us as pushy. We have to “re-examine and change our internal dialog about what selling is really about” says Ontario sales specialist, Gerry Black.

Based in Newmarket, Ontario, Gerry Black is a marketing sales specialist with 30+ years in the industry. He names his sales method (and his website) “Invisible Selling”: https://invisibleselling.com/

Stereotypes often have a small element of reality around which hatred and disdain amplify and distort, so that Herb Tarlek resonates painfully with our fears of selling. But Black steps clear aside of that stereotype, rationally advising entrepreneurs that sales are a service to the community and a “mutually beneficial outcome by both seller and buyer.” Rightly managed, the sales process can have integrity.

We are, as Black says in a video promotion for his program, respected sales professionals who provide solutions to our prospects’ problems. We need to undercut our own fears that selling is “an adversarial relationship.” It does not have to be!

Approaching sales as a way to solve problems for our clients is not a new philosophy, he observes, and “there is nothing new about the basics of sales fundamentals.” For instance, content-rich, accurate and persuasive copywriting can get the work of our clients out to their clients. And,  just as we would expect a doctor or a hair stylist or a butcher to be paid (and paid fairly) for their services, so too should we.

Black recommends that we know exactly what problems that our work can fix (even before we plan a script or method of selling). Here are eight of his tips:

(1) Convert selling opportunities into sales:  Be prepared as an entrepreneur to do that. (This has nothing to do with how great you may be as a service provider. Do not give in to the temptation to apologize for wanting to sell your services!) One way to do this is to learn as much as you can about your prospects, so that you can converse with them more easily.

What pain points of theirs are you relieving? What problems of theirs can you solve? Having a sales mindset is necessary to secure leads and to turn those leads into sales.

(2) Cultivate an audience of people who want or need what you’re selling and are willing to pay for it.  (Don’t go down the rabbit hole of trying to convince the resistant prospect to hire you! This is especially true on the Prairies.)

(3) Adopt a positive sales’ mindset: Make sure you view your services as benefiting both your prospect and yourself.

(4) Be aware of reasons that selling feels stressful to you: entrepreneurs often don’t clearly understand the purpose and structure of a selling interaction. The relationship should be mutually beneficial and not an adversarial tug-of-war between “a winner and a loser.”

(5) Take control of the reigns when a prospect contacts you, because they rarely know what to say, and whether there’s a fit between their project and your services.  Black says: “Don’t let the tail way the dog!” (If the dog is smarter than its tail it can wag it. If the tail were smarter than the dog, then it would wag the dog.)

As sellers, we are the experts in this exchange. Recognizing this,  entrepreneurs can take control of the selling conversation and eliminate the stress of feeling uncertain how things will go.

So, ask questions to direct the conversations. After making small (but genuine) small-talk, the crucial question to ask is this: “What is going on in your life that led you to contact me, today?” This question defuses the tension between buyer and seller and allows the seller the necessary space to speak.

These tips keep your sales conversations in order and instantly relieve the stress around selling that comes to many of us.

(6) Focus on your prospects and customers: they won’t take an interest in you and your services until you take an interest in them. You can do this by constantly gathering information about your prospects and their interests: ask  plenty of questions about them and their work. For instance, show them how your service will change their lives, make their work more efficient or profitable. Show how your service will  keep your existing customers happy over the long term. Make your customers feel that they matter to you, as a seller.  And make sure that everyone in your company understands that importance of valuing each customer.

(7) Know that prospects’ objections to the sale are often “maybes” and are usually a “disguised request from prospects for more information that will allow him/her to make a buying decision. Objections indicate that the prospect hasn’t yet been convinced of your service (and why s/he should pay for it). So, answer objections with statements that explain and show value.

(8) The final (and often fatal) mistake many entrepreneurs make is failing to close the sale—i.e. “ask for the order.” Here, entrepreneurs who don’t understand sales fear rejection. We often lack confident footing and positioning in the exchange, don’t want to seem pushy (when we are a welcomed consultant), and simply don’t know what to say. But if you have already addressed so much in your conversation, the prospect expects you to ask for the order–to close the sale.

It may be that the prospect has one final (hidden) objection that they will put on the table, which you can address and then close the sale.

Some entrepreneurs find themselves closing earlier, if we are earlier confident of the prospect’s acceptance.

Black stresses that our time as entrepreneur/seller is very valuable: if you have already identified a problem of your prospect that you can fix, if you have invested time with him/her and can demonstrate value during the sales process, you have EARNED the right to ask for the sale.

Gerry Black has more tips on sales for those faint-of-heart.  I recommend reading his blog and signing up for his course:  https://invisibleselling.com/

He’s the perfect antidote to those internalized stereotypes that selling is for crooks. Blow that false belief (and Herb Tarlek) out of the water, once and for all. You deserve the space and respect you need to do your work.

And now it’s your turn: Do these tips from Gerry Black make the selling process feel more manageable? Please write in; I’d be delighted to hear from you.

Want to avoid redundancies and cliches? This month’s “Tell Your Story Newsletter” tells you how . . .

May 2021 Vol 3 Issue 5  

Tell Your Story Newsletter (TYSN):

Specializing in Entrepreneurial and Organizational Storytelling

Let me tell your story!

Welcome Mid-May, 2021!

Until very recently, we have had a late spring on the Prairies, with cold mornings and very few days reaching 20 degrees, Celsius. And yet, last week brought more lasting warmth and record breaking heat is forecasted for today!

 

Have you noticed trees, bushes and lawns “greening up?” I’ve met some of you drinking in the plants, trees and bushes at our local garden centres.

 

The lengthening of our daylight hours makes life feel easier, despite our pandemic fatigue.

 

My writer-friend Julie Barnes enjoys this good weather, by punctuating her work with short breaks to weed a flower bed or a vegetable patch. I’ve been walking in my neighbourhood, to witness the wonder of spring.

 

In “Article One” of this month’s issue, I present redundancies and cliches to avoid in copywriting (and in fact all kinds of writing), as chronicled by writers of the online network, “ProWritingAid.”

 

And in “Storytellers’ Corner,” I visit the concept of “defamiliarization” of English idioms, from theorists and philosophers who first identified it, in the 1950s.

 

These articles offer a small taste of how complex our use of language truly is, and remind us to be conscious of its ethics and politics. Power inheres in our  linguistic practices.

 

But, as ladybugs and bees fly by my laptop and I find myself reading by daylight until 9:00 pm, I am conscious, too, of the miracle of our spring!

I hope it also brings you joy, good readers.

Sincerely,

Elizabeth

Principal

Storytelling Communications

www.elizabethshih.com

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IN THIS ISSUE:

ARTICLE 1: Tips on avoiding redundancies and cliches, from “ProWritingAid”

STORYTELLERS’ CORNER:

On idioms and “defamiliarization”

SHOP NEWS

ABOUT US

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Article One: Tips on avoiding redundancies and cliches from “ProWritingAid”

The British-based, online writers’ network, ProWritingAid, offers many resources for writers of all genres, including copywriters.

This month, I’m sharing some of the sometimes laughable pointers from the network’s ebook, “Business Writing Hacks for Flawless Communications,” by staff writers, Kathy Edens and Lisa Lepki.

Edens and Lepki present (1) common redundancies to delete and (2) common cliches, or “corporate speak,” that we would all do well to avoid in business communication (and in any form of communication).

Many of their pointers are witty and insightful and may tickle your funny bone, as well as alert your mind!

(1) On redundancies to avoid:

Edens and Lepki write that one way “to declutter your writing . . . is to eliminate the common redundancies rampant in business writing today. You want to remove . . . double expressions that add nothing to your meaning.”

They stress that not all repetition is bad:  “You should still repeat key phrases” for emphasis, clarification and therefore, coherence.

But redundancies must go. Your copy will be stronger for it!

From their alphabetized catalog, here are some of the “worst offenders” (along with an explanation of why they’re redundant–which may amuse you):

  1. Absolutely essential” (if something is essential, it can’t be less than absolute).
  2. Advance planning” (Planning is always done in advance).
  3. Basic fundamentals” (Fundamentals mean the basic components).
  4. Brief summary” (A summary is a brief description of something).
  5. Component parts” (Components are parts).
  6. Current trend” (A trend is something happening currently).
  7. Desirable benefits” (Benefits are by nature desirable).
  8. End result” (Results always come at the end).
  9. First conceived” (Conceived means something started at the beginning or first).
  10. Foreign imports” (To import something is to bring it from a foreign country).
  11. Free gift” (All gifts are free).
  12. Future plans” (Plans always concern future occurrences).
  13. Harmful injury” (Injury means harm has already occurred).
  14. Integrate together” (Integrate means to bring together).
  15. Joint collaboration” (To collaborate means to work together or jointly).
  16. Knowledgeable experts” (Experts are by definition knowledgeable).
  17. Later time” (Later already indicates a place in time).
  18. Major breakthrough” (All breakthroughs are major).
  19. Meet together/meet with each other” (To meet means getting together with someone/each other).
  20. Mutual cooperation” (Cooperation is always mutual.)
  21. New construction” (Construction means to build something new).
  22. New innovation/new invention” (To innovate/invent is to create something new).
  23. “Outside of . . . ” (Outside means being on the other side of something).
  24. Past experience” (All experiences are in the past).
  25. Postpone until later” (Postponing means putting something off until later).
  26. Proposed plan” (A plan is something you propose to do).
  27. Reply back” (To reply means to get back to someone).
  28. Scrutinize in detail” (Scrutinizing means looking at something in detail).
  29. Still persists/ remains” (To persist or remain means you’re still doing something).
  30. Time period” (Time indicates a specific period).
  31. Unexpected emergency” (All emergencies are unexpected).
  32. Usual custom” (A custom is usual or customary).
  33. Very unique” (Unique is always one-of-a-kind).

(2) On business cliches (“corporate speak”) to avoid:

Edens and Lepki cite an article in “Inc. Magazine” as a source on how “corporate speak makes your organization dumber.” Here are some deadbeat expressions to avoid in your writing, even (especially) if everyone around you uses them:

  1. At the end of the day” (try “what’s crucial is”)
  2. Start building consensus” (try “persuade others to”)
  3. Core competency” (try “our advantage”)
  4. Low-hanging fruit” (try “simple opportunities”)
  5. Sweet spot” (try “effective qualities”)
  6. Mission critical” (try “top priority/goal”)
  7. “Leverage synergies” (try “combined effort”)
  8. Paradigm shift” (try “fundamental change”)
  9. Break down the silos” (try “collaborate/work together”)
  10. Run it up the flagpole” (try “test an idea”)
  11. Limited bandwith” (try “capacity to deal with”)

And now it’s your turn: Do you hear or read these  redundancies and cliches in the language with which you work? Whose interests are served by sloppy thought and writing?

Please share your examples or stories about them. I’d be delighted to share them in future issues!

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STORYTELLER’s CORNER . . . . 

STORYTELLER’S CORNER: On Idioms and “defamiliarization”: Language matters

Readers new to the English language are often surprised and charmed by phrases in conversation or in artistic work that disrupt how we commonly perceive the world.  Words in a text or a film can briefly, for them, seem new and fresh.

Such language has drawn readers’/listeners’ attention to the rhetorical strategies or devices that underpin our idioms.

Many idioms that first struck me in childhood as hilarious (providing examples of what Russian formalist thinkers in the 1950s called  “defamiliarization”), now sound mundane to me. They are no longer funny or amusing and instead sound cliche.

In recent years, I’ve noticed that when speaking with others who have not read much English literature, some of these expressions elicit the kind of laughter that I recall from my first childhood encounters the words. This happens because the language is for these users “de-familiarized” (made to seem unfamiliar).

Do these examples also sound passe or cliche to you?

These idioms have made some of my contacts laugh:

  • You can “nuke your coffee in the microwave.”
  • Please do not “reinvent the wheel” and call it new research.
  • S/he is an “evolutionary throwback” to study that topic for so long.
  • Most hotdogs are “mystery meat.”
  • S/he was “coughing up a lung” in the doctor’s waiting room.
  • I had to “get up at the crack of dawn” to make that meeting.
  • The reviewers found that the leader was “asleep at the switch”  . . .

Russian formalists in the 1950s argued that idioms like these sound funny when they disrupt an uninitiated reader’s perception and making of meaning. Common concepts or ideas are presented in “defamiliarized” ways. But once heard, the idioms quickly become familiar and so no longer amuse us.

One critic who wrote at length on “defamiliarization,” Viktor Shklovsky, says that this distinction between artistic and common language exists in all forms of art. He applied the Russian term “ostranenie” to it.

The above examples come from mainstream conversation. But dramatic examples occur in the literature of many countries, from Alexander Pope to Bertolt Brecht. They also permeate a lot of political discourse.

If an artist can “shake up a familiar scene,” as literary theorist Uri Margolin writes, “as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it.”

There are political implications whenever the making of meaning in language is involved, and literary theorists and philosophers have found connections between “defamiliarization” and Freud’s “uncanny,” Brecht’s “estrangement effect” and Derrida’s “differance.” These are all (loosely termed) “postmodern” insights and theories from our last century that hold as much (if not more) value now.

They have altered the way we perceive and express ourselves, our subjectivity and the world we occupy.

Put more simply: language matters!

And now it’s your turn. Have you noticed how familiarity with language can alter the way you perceive it, by you or  those you talk to? Please share your examples for a future issue!

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SHOP NEWS:

I’m particularly relieved to have found a happy home for an elderly family member at the end of last month, so that I can finally return to writing and teaching at “Storytelling Communications.”

Special thanks for the supportive cards and notes from family and friends (far and wide) which have brightened challenging times.

And thanks thus far to the staff at Revera seniors’ assisted living in Saskatoon, who cultivate empathy and caring for our seniors without sacrificing professionalism.

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I was delighted to talk about one arm of a large “Ethical Digital” project this month that is being undertaken by tech guru Katrina German and her team, including Kelly Tidalgo.

Using digital tools these days can raise a lot of ethical questions. Haven’t we all worried about that vulnerable teen or that overwhelmed senior, who has fallen prey (respectively) to online bullying or social media scams?

Katrina and her team will enlighten us in future conversations on the ethics of digitization, through their  project.

I encourage you to stay tuned for more on their website:

https://www.ethicaldigital.ca/

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In other news, I’m delighted (and proud) to share that my Uncle Harvie Barker (of Penticton, BC) has been awarded the city’s highest Rotary Award, for his 18 years of writing columns  in the “Penticton Herald.”

His collections of those columns has spawned dozens of books and raised more than $25K for local service clubs and agencies for the region’s  vulnerable population.

Not everyone thinks of writing and publishing as a community service, but Harvie (a retired United Church minister) has lived that mission and inspired many others, along the way.

I remember in adolescence trying to brainstorm “helpful” ideas for my uncle’s sermons when he visited, none of which passed muster (but many of which ended in peals of laughter).

Congratulations, Harvie Barker!

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And, as I review my training materials to teach English as a second language, I am grateful to friend and accomplished teacher (of philosophy, classics and writing), Steve Cavan, who has graciously shared stories and resources with me.

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ABOUT US:

Between 2011 and December 2018, Elizabeth Shih Communications chronicled the stories of B2B marketing and communications on the Prairies and across the country.

Effective January 1, 2019, I rebranded as “Storytelling Communications.” I now write marketing and communications documents and lead workshops that help small- and medium-sized businesses and and newcomers to Canada to close more sales or secure better jobs.

Interested in learning more? Please contact me through my CASL-compliant website (www.elizabethshih.com).

After I receive your message, I’ll be pleased to discuss projects with you!

Please visit my website for more information (www.storytellingcommunications.ca).

 

Revisiting self-compassion as an antidote to suffering (with Kristin Neff and Christina Chwyl)

(A posting on entrepreneurial well-being, first published on January 4, 2018)

Entrepreneurs tend to deal with the greatest heights and depths of emotional experience—dizzying elation when a contract succeeds and equally deep depression when it does not.

Throughout the past Christmas holiday season,  I first read about meditation, mindfulness and suffering—concepts that affect our minds and the creative work that we as entrepreneurs do. As that year recently ended and a new one was ushered in, I noticed my mental temptation to ruminate—what the Concise Oxford English Dictionary refers to as the process of “thinking deeply about something.”

But in a context of meditation and mindfulness, “rumination” takes on a more troubling meaning, such as nursing obsessive worries and getting lost in depressive and anxious thoughts that greatly undermine one’s contentment or peace. Rumination can cause terrible emotional (and then creative) blocks, as we set forth to launch new services, or when we start new projects or conclude old ones. Can you think of times when you faced these kinds of emotional blocks and how much you suffered from them?

In her pioneering 2011 study, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, American psychologist Kristin Neff says that suffering occurs when reality does not match what we want. Given that such discordance is a common (almost daily) reality, we all suffer to some extent. It is part of being human. Neff cites her Chinese Buddhist mentor, Shinzen Young, however, who asserts that “suffering = pain x resistance.” We all suffer, but we can make our suffering more manageable if we do not resist the pain beneath it. Feel the pain, Neff writes; know what it’s about; and it will dissipate.

“The suffering doesn’t go away,” as local radio host Heather Morrison recently said, in the context of pandemic life. “But you feel better equipped to manage it.”

While contemplating this insight back in 2017, I happened also to read a meditation by the Buddhist monk, Bodhipaksa (over the Wildmind LLC meditation website). He stresses that when we suffer, one way that we resist pain is to ruminate on our circumstances, thinking, for instance, that “‘I’m worried about this, I don’t like that, No one cares about me or considers my feelings,’” and so on. Rumination allows our individual “thinking . . .  to amplify our suffering,” Bodhipaksa says.

Instead, if we can find compassion for ourselves (what Neff centres her work on), that self-compassion allows us to see ourselves as part of a greater community of others.

“‘I’ thoughts reinforce our sense of aloneness. We see ourselves as broken, as worse than others and therefore separate from [others],” Bodhipaksa says. By contrast, when we offer ourselves compassion (by a process of meditation or self-talk) we see that our “individual sufferings are . . . .  shared by others and [are] part of the difficulties we all have in being human.” “We thinking” connects us to others and enables us to view our individual sufferings as “part of the difficulties we all have in being human” he writes.

Neff’s theories of self-compassion argue that it can be cultivated and consists of “kindness meeting suffering,” that we offer to ourselves, and then can extend to others.

Fourteen months since the Covid-19 pandemic began, do you find yourself ruminating on (not just considering) your life and work?

If we cultivate self-compassion when we feel pain (instead of resisting the pain that only amplifies our suffering), our self-focused rumination will give way to calm, “decreasing our tendency to freak out, and increasing our happiness” (Bodhipaksa).

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In the March 2021 issue of the  online magazine, “Psyche,” doctoral student in clinical psychology, Christina Chwyl, took up the topic of self-compassion, arguing that it “is not self-indulgence.”

Most of us are raised to share, cooperate and play fairly. And “yet many of us receive no guidance on how to be a friend to ourselves,” she writes. “We think that compassion for ourselves is counterproductive, self-indulgent, lazy or weak. As though we deal with life’s disappointments,” as Chwyl says, by “sitting on the couch and eat[ing] Ben and Jerry’s all day.”

Self-compassion, on the contrary, “gives us strategies to manage our emotions, such as seeking support from others” instead of blaming ourselves or distracting ourselves from our unaddressed resistance to suffering.

When we practice more self-compassion, we find it easier to improve ourselves by learning from our mistakes. We can admit our mistakes to ourselves without criticizing ourselves punitively for them.

Self-compassion is, Chwyl writes, “a healthy response to suffering.” When we practice it, we are better able to “take personal responsibility for transgressions and persist following obstacles” that otherwise would halt us in our tracks. Entrepreneurial and other failures become opportunities for learning and growth.

And “contrary to assumptions that self-compassion is selfish, self-compassion even helps us to be kinder toward others.” We can become “more resilient versions of ourselves.”

She writes that when our egos whisper to ourselves in self-talk to “achieve more, do better, and you will be worthy,” self-compassion is the reliable, old friend whom we deserve and who says, “I believe in you, I’m here for you, no matter what.”

Do these insights on self-compassion resonate with you? How do you offer yourself compassion, in these late, pandemic days?

The dawn will come: Running a marathon as a metaphor for late pandemic life

 More than a year since the Covid-19 pandemic began, folk from all walks of life are feeling exhausted.

In a recent feature for CBC’s “Saskatoon Morning” radio program, producer Heather Morrison likened our discomfort to the mental rigours of marathon running.

 

When the world first recognized the pandemic in 2020, health officials quickly reminded us that “This is not a sprint; it’s a marathon.” The major difference, Morrison says, is that endurance races are done by choice. We can’t opt-out of Covid-19. However, we can learn from those who have trained their minds and bodies through the periods of deprivation and loss that come with

running marathons.

 

Morrison grounds her reflection in the reality that she is currently training (for the first time) to do the upcoming Saskatchewan marathon, a full 42.2 kilometre race.  Marathons, she observed in her story, are less about training one’s body and more about one’s mind. The kind of mental training athletes undergo is equally needed (by all of us) to cope with late pandemic days. 

When we deal with social isolation, she suggests, we need to focus on moving forward, despite not being able to see a “finish line.” When you run, you need to focus on “what you cannot see.”  

 

In knowing that there is a finishing line ahead, we find the motivation to keep moving forward.

 

Morrison interviewed Terrant Cross Child, a Blackfoot member of the Blood Tribe from Southern Alberta, who regularly runs marathons. When you start, he observes, you can’t see the finish line, but must focus on reaching it. Aimless effort won’t work.

 Cross Child says that runners have

to endure both the bad and the good, along with the knowledge that “the prize [of finishing] lies ahead.” 

 

Just as runners’ aid stations offer first aid, water and energy gel to help athletes on their races, Cross Child says that we can cope with isolation by remembering conversations and times shared with loved ones, such as spouses, children and friends.

 

He and other marathoners, Morrison says, are “models of perseverance.” Their capacity, as Cross Child says, to “keep their eyes on the prize” ultimately overpowers the agonizing wish to quit. 

 

Ultra-marathons, the equivalent of four marathons, can last as long as 22 hours (160 km) and require athletes to run “through the pitch black of night.” Morrison interviewed Stacy Dittmer (of Brandon, MB) who has run many of these and found them doable only “by segmenting the challenge into manageable pieces.”

 

Dittmer thinks only about the next 40 steps, not the overwhelming hundred kilometres left to go. It’s “one foot in front of another” and “one aid station to the next.”  

 

Quitting, she says, is not an option. And negative thoughts need to be excluded to keep a healthy mindset. 

 

Morrison says that endurance training is “not about being so fit you do not suffer, but about changing the way you feel that suffering. The suffering does not go away. But you feel better equipped to manage it.”

 

However, we can’t anticipate every turn in the road:  sometimes we cannot prepare our minds or something unexpected occurs, so that we can easily feel overwhelmed. We might feel we have little energy or suffer muscle cramps and so on. Sometimes, Dittmer says, we simply have to “hang on.” The lows always pass. “The further you go on, they go away . . . . If you can just stick with it, you’re going to feel good again.”

 

Morrison’s story concludes that Dittmer believes gratitude is essential to cultivating a healthy mindset. During an ultramarathon, she runs on a “dark trail” all night long, so that the sight of first light becomes the object of deep gratitude. Her race is not finished, but “she’s grateful for having made it through the night.”

 

That image completes the analogy: with gratitude, Morrison says, we get through the pandemic, “from one sunrise until the next; until we hit the finish line.” 

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Late stage, world altering pandemics, like gruelling ultra-marathons, can and do grind us down (consider historical accounts of the Spanish Flu).  Pandemics (and marathons) do so by forcing us to confront our own mortality, our own rationale and faith for living.

This may be why these lines from Rabindranath Tagore always cause me to reflect on the marginal spaces we occupy–some of us more intensely now than ever before:

“Death is not the extinguishing of light; it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.” 

And now it’s your turn: do you find the analogy between marathon running and pandemic life helpful? Please tell me on my “comments” page what thoughtful supports you are finding. I’d  be delighted to hear from you.