June 20, 2007

Running, Walking, and Lying on the Couch

Don't worry. This is not one of those exercise posts suggesting you get off your ass more than you already do and start running if you don't already. In fact, it's sort of the opposite. This is an annoying philosophical post, and running is just a metaphor. It's actually about priorities, and the amusing human tendency to focus them all in one place.

So if you'll bear with Crabby's analogy for a bit:

In the exercise world, some people are runners; some people are walkers; and the vast majority of folks rarely get off the couch at all.

Those who do get off the couch and walk are doing something huge and healthy and virtuous. Yet walking isn't as fast as running. People who run often feel a bit smug about it. People who "only" walk can feel inadequate, or guilty, or frustrated, or envious, depending on why it is they're not running. (They'd feel much better if they compared themselves instead to the Couch People, but for some reason, the vast legions of Couch People become irrelevant once one has left one's own couch behind).

However, there are many areas of life besides aerobic exercise. You may be a "walker" when it comes to exercise, but a "runner" when it comes to your job. You may be "lying on the couch" when it comes to Making Your Marriage Work. There are not enough hours a day to be a runner in everything.

So why do so many of us concentrate our efforts on improving our fastest times in areas where we're already running? But remain, in other important areas of our lives, stuck on the couch stuffing Ding-Dongs in our mouths?

You know what I mean. Say you've been putting a tremendous amount of energy into being The Worlds' Best Mom. Because what could be more important? You're running marathons at a 4 minute mile pace, yet you still feel you should run further, faster--because there's still more you could do. Your little boy just bit the Kindergarten teacher and you haven't made brownies from scratch in months!

And yet you promised yourself you'd do something about your rising blood pressure and racing heart and your doctor said something about "relaxation exercises" but where would you find the time?

To Crabby, the hardest part about achieving "better balance" is not putting more effort into something: it's contemplating spending less effort on the things she's already invested in. What once seemed an amazing accomplishment (a promotion to Supervisor, a triathlon, a pound a week weight loss) is now just "normal" and expected. (And by the way, these examples are all hypothetical and are not from Crabby's actual life. She expects to do her first triathlon, for example, right about the time Giant Two-Headed Moon People show up to take over the world).

On the other hand, if you've ever suffered a death in the family, or had your house burn down, or even had really bad stomach flu and barfed for three days straight, you know that it is possible to stop running. Right in the middle of everything, suddenly with no warning--Bam. You're flat on your back on the couch and you can't do any of those things that you "have" to do. But the world doesn't end! In fact, somehow everything works out just fine.

At some point, it seems wise to learn how to get off the couch. But also how to take a deep breath and stop running so fast. Walking is good too!

So does anyone else find this issue of priorities a challenge? Are you pretty balanced in life or are there important things you're neglecting? Are you a slacker who longs to be an over-achiever, or vice versa? Any thoughts are welcome!


  1. What a great post! I never thought of things in that sense... I think you summed up my usual college course loads! There's usually one class that I "run" in... and others that I just can't get myself off the couch for. (Sometimes literally!)

    Now if I could only make myself see what a huge priority it is for me to work on my health. You kind of hit home in this one!

  2. Ooohhh wee- I needed this post. I have been jogging (not walking, not running) on the treadmill at the gym- I am so proud of myself because I have gotten to where I can jog without stopping at a 5MPH pace for about 25 minutes- problem is- now that I love the feeling of jogging (I love the high of it!), I have convinced myself that I have to do it EVERY DAY, each day trying to go a bit further. The past couple of days, I've had a sore throat and a few body aches, but yesterday I went and did it anyway. I could tell my body was resisting it- I went home after my workout and took some echinacea and promised myself I would take a day off. But I can't I;m addicted. I did manage to stay away from the gym today but I did do my hour-long pilates video. Seriously, there is something wrong with getting addicted to what we feel like we HAVE to do to keep up with ourselves. I need a psychiatrist. Well, that's no secret.

  3. I agree...it seems the more I do the more I expect ofmyself. I should be happy that after a few months of trying hard and not running I can now jog about 5Km...but noooooo, now I need to add *more* minutes or try and go *faster*. Oddly enough, other areas of life have slacked off - diet for one. Running has become a "wow I can eat more!" excuse. As I focus on one thing it seems, others fall back...in all areas of life. Try and do some work inside the house? The yard falls apart. Try and cook healthier meals? I slack off on all my other excercise but running. It's odd...finding balance is tricky.

    I thinking in analogies to life walking is the best...moving forward but not missing out on the details as they fly by.

  4. heh...typing gibbled...not enough caffeine yet. HOpe that made sense

  5. Great post! For me, as with so many, I am my worst enemy. Constantly focusing on what I'm not doing rather than feeling confident in my successes. Putting so much energy towards one goal that all others fall behind. I try to remember that my aim is Health, not a certain number on the scale or a set time per mile.


  6. Crabby, you've written a wonderful post here. And it's so versatile, too--it applies to all aspects of this so-called life we're all given one chance at. You've inspired me because you sound just like a dear friend of mine who passed away a couple years ago and whom I miss terribly. But he was the one who taught me all about balance, which is what I'm getting from your fabulous post--it may very well be the answer to the question of life we spend our whole lives seeking--perhaps too much effort (pushing) in one area whilst not enough (apathy) in another.
    Now I gotta go write about my dear friend! You go, Crabby!

  7. Excellent post, Crabby. Applies across the board to everything in life.
    Currently I'm walking. I haven't been running in any aspect of my life since I quit working outside the home. Now I barely work inside the home as well.
    I may have taken the aphorism
    "everything in moderation" a wee bit too literally.

    Thanks for the blog comments help today.

  8. The other day, I actually blew out my knee doing yoga! I did it when I was doing a fairly easy pose for me and bam. I didn't even see it coming. I needed this really. I think that we attach ourselves to ideas that we think will make us happy and healthy. If we are not doing them, then we are down on ourselves and make ourselves feel guilty. The truth is, we should be gentle with our bodies. Physically and mentally.

  9. I have thought a lot about my priorities in the last few months. I have concluded that if I want to "walk" or "run" at any of my priorities I must make fitness my #1 priority.

    Perhaps to use your illustration, it's like cross-training. If you want to be a better runner, you should pick up biking. If you want to be a better swimmer, you should pick up running. Doing another exercise will help you improve in your main exercise.

    In order to raise the importance and my actual following through with my other priorities, I need become more fit. Fitness as my #1 priority does not detract from my others, but raises them up and makes me better at them.

    Great post Cranky

  10. Great post.

    This may be a slightly simplistic take on this issue but I think the key is baby steps. If you really take a look at what you want out of life, what your goals are, what's really important to you, (and not what others say SHOULD be important to you) and then do things that will get you those things, I think you'll find balance. I think baby steps are paramount because it just takes really little changes to make a big impact over time.

    For example, I find myself wanting to run a "greener" household. Just writing that looks a bit overwhelming... but doing something small for a period of time (using less paper towels- thanks Samantha) and then adding to that little by little will make a difference. Just maybe not today. I think it's the same with exercise, working on a marriage, whatever area is lacking, If you really want to improve or change it, small (sometimes teeny) steps in the right direction can remove guilt or frustration and actually lead to big change over time.
    I think really little steps toward the things you really want kind of naturally even out the "scales" when it comes to balancing your life. It's so important to look forward and not sideways- comparing yourself to someone else's weaknesses or strengths just isn't fair to yourself or anyone else.

    HA! Ok, sorry for the motivational speaker post.

  11. Cranky, Opps. I Mean Crabby,

    I am always trying to achieve some sort of balance . I have a super-duper marriage, but forget to just enjoy it sometimes. I think we begin to think in terms of more, more, more.

    This is a super-fantabulous post because you are funny, and when one reads the words you write, they laugh and relate.

    I'm not talking a little giggle, this time, you really made me LAUGH -- twice! And that's great because I haven't been out of the house all day.

    Anywho. Thanks. You are brill.


    Sylvia C.

  12. Hi all!

    You guys are amazing and totally blow me away with your great comments.

    And yes, I'm trying to apply this "balance" thing in my own life a bit more, so will be doing the group love thing in the comments today. (But of course I'm reading and nodding and laughing and appreciating every one of them. And I'll come back later today to to check in).

    I think I'm actually going to make this a two-part or even a three-part post, 'cause I think there's so much here and because I struggle with this stuff myself a lot.

    And hi Kate! I'm not sure if I've seen you here before. If not, welcome and thanks for commenting. (And if so, sorry I forgot!)

  13. It's amazing how you come a long and give us all a timely tweak with them pinchers, Crabby! This is great. I so identify with what you've said and also with the other commenters. I was about to start naming names but as I read further and further down the list I found I was agreeing with everyone!

    I'm running with the blogging and sitting on the couch with writing and diet and exercise. Today, I am going to walk through each of these activities!

  14. OOoh, I am such a runner, in all the aspects described here, it's not even funny...

    I've never liked running, but it's gorwn on me a little since I've gotten fit and I no longer feel like I'm dying when I do do it...which is once a month for about 20 minutes or so.

    Once I get to the "running" stage of something, I have a REALLY hard time backing off. I am WAY too good at filling my life's "plate" full of things to do and accomplish, even though most of them don't ever get done. Like the book I want to illustrate, internet bookamrks to look at, the stack of books I want to read, drawings I want to make, foods I want to try.

    It's never ending. I have a hard time letting myself get onto that couch just to relax a little. :P

  15. Hi again!

    And thanks, jessica, in-between, geosomin, kate, adam, leah, samantha, half-man, katieo, sylvia, dawn & sera! You all had such amusing and sensible things to say! Sorry again for doing the group thanks thing; I think I'll be doing that occasionally from now on but hopefully not too often.

    Interesting too that so many of you are literally "running" at running! That activity, in particular, seems susceptible to over-doing.

    Anyway, I'm continuing with a bit more on this tomorrow so I hope I don't bore you all to death.

  16. Hi there. New-ish reader here, first time commenter, and non-runner. Well, I don't literally, physically run (my joints don't like it), but your analogy was spot on with how I am in the rest of my life. There are some things that once I get going I always feel like I should be doing more, better, faster, stronger (e.g. work), and others that I know perfectly well are important but have been either too lazy or too scared to "get up off the couch" with respect to them (e.g. maintaining certain relationships).

    I'm actually in a reasonable place with respect to exercise right now--taking action as far as getting off the couch but accepting that I'm not at a "running" stage and that's okay--so the analogy really resonates with me. Good post.

  17. hi janedoe4,

    Good for you that you're "walking" with the exercise thing. There's a real temptation to "run" at first and then burn out.

    So glad you stopped by!

  18. My two cents worth, even though this post is long in the past for everyone. To extend the metaphor: running is high-impact and hard on the knees, feet, and other important joints. You can reach the same destination by walking. It just may take a little longer. You can walk fast or slow, with weights or not. Of course, occasionally you need to dash for the bus -- some people do their best work under pressure. (Raise your hands. Anyone?)

  19. Hi Appleton,
    Very apt extension of the metaphor! And some of us keep convincing ourselves we need to run for the bus even if (a) the bus has already left anyway or (b) we're early and in no particular hurry. Thanks!

    Also, back at the post on Childhood Obesity, Norabarnacle had a book recommendation for you based on your comments about kids & nature--it may be one you're familiar with already, but it sounded quite interesting.

  20. This post and all comments following has opened my eyes (finally!) to realizing I'm not doing as bad as I thought! What a relief to find out that even though I need to re-adjust my thinking and feel good about my accomplishments instead of bad about my "couch" issues, I'm not the only one guilty of thinking ass-backwards!! Thanks,everyone--your confessions have actually given me a boost. I'm a "walkeraholic" and thought I needed to be a runner (which I just can't seem to manage). Working on mental health is a bitch!

  21. Good for you Carrie!
    Isn't it funny how we convince ourselves everyone else has this all wired and we're the only ones who are struggling in so many of these areas? Yet as soon as people start sharing you realize you're totally normal and everyone thinks they've got things to work on.

    "Walking" is great and we don't give ourselves enough credit for all that we do.

    Great comment, and thanks so much for stopping by!


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