A few weeks ago I was lamenting one of my weekly runs to a friend who has been a running adviser for me. He’s run a full marathon in the past and has been a big help in getting me trained for the half-marathon Traci and I are running in October. As we talked, I whined, “Yesterday’s run was really hard. I still got it done, but for as short as it was, it just seems like it shouldn’t be that tough.” He smiled a sagely little smile and said, “You’ll be glad you did that run in five weeks.”
Five weeks? I’ll be glad in five weeks!? Obviously this friend of mine doesn’t understand my need for instant gratification! Of course, there is nothing in running that is about instant gratification, and he continued to inform me that studies have shown, that when you’re working out consistently, the workout you do today will have a significant impact on your workouts in five weeks.
That’s so contrary to how most of us workout, usually thinking that a big lift today will make tomorrow’s lift easier, or a big run today should make tomorrow’s run that much better. But those who study the science of the body have found that a day’s workout, when combined with a steady and consistent workout routine, shows its greatest benefit five weeks after the fact. So the run I was whining about was going to be my best friend a few weeks later.
Well that stinks.
Once again, running proves to be a valuable metaphor for life. So much of what you and I are doing today doesn’t have its maximum value for our lives tomorrow or even the next day, but rather, as we keep a consistent life of growing and changing and being challenged by God and His Word we reap the benefit weeks later. And maybe that’s why so many people give up after putting in a couple of good days of effort. Have you ever been there?
Have you ever tried a new diet for a couple of days, only to face the discouragement that the scale didn’t change much after a week? So what did you do? If you’re like most dieters, you gave up and drowned your dieting sorrows in a giant plate of nachos or an extra large bowl of ice cream. Why? Because waiting five weeks for results is hard.
Experts say it takes somewhere between 21-35 days (3-5 weeks) to make a new practice stick. After that, it takes another two to three months for that new practice to become an automatic habit. That means from day one of a change you are trying to make in your life, it can take close to six months before that change has become somewhat automatic in your life.
Soooooo, when you make that great choice today, you are paving the way for that choice to stick, and then eventually become a habit. But not tomorrow. Not next week. Not even next month. The great choice you make today will help solidify your change five weeks from today, if you keep working it until then.
Maybe that’s why, so often in the Bible, we are instructed to keep working at growth and change. Like the writer of Hebrews who says, “Therefore let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage each other, and all the more, as we see the Day approaching...” Did you catch that? We need to keep encouraging other more and more as we establish a habit and culture of building into each other’s lives.
The theme passage for me for 2014 has the same idea in it: “...let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us...” (Hebrews 12:1-2). Running with perseverance doesn’t just mean to run for a long time, but rather, to keep running day in and day out, knowing that the long term gain happens down the road.
In fact, later in that same passage in Hebrews 12 the author says, “No one thinks discipline [hard work, challenges or punishment etc...] is pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained up by it” (Hebrews 12:11).
So where do you want to be in five weeks? Where do you want to be in five months? Those changes you desire for the future begin today. Those goals you want to cross off your list? those dreams you want to tackle? your work begins today. Hold the course even when the work isn’t fun or easy because you know that what you’re doing today -- that very unglamorous daily obedience! -- is making a difference for the future.
Go ahead and take the plunge, life is always better on the water!