I like the thought of pushing myself, going beyond my usual plodding pace, no matter the activity.
Not that I always do more than just think about it.
I run, but I'm not the runner with arms and legs swinging back in forth in perfect rhythm, muscles straining, beads of perspiration forming rivulets down arms and legs, face scrunched in serious concentration.
I write, but not what I would call faithfully or even fruitfully. I don't wake up, pour a cup of coffee, and type away for three hours until it's time to stand, stretch, and feel oh-so-good about my progress.
I exercise, but not every day at the same time, slowly but surely building up strong muscles and improving my cardiovascular system.
Not me. That's too much work.
I take my time, hike uphill, run/walk on the flats, and run slowly downhill. It's still hard, but not "I want to collapse on the ground and cry like a baby" hard.
When I'm finally done checking what a friend of a friend posted on a social networking site (after checking e-mails, blogs, looking for funny cartoons, and generally trying to avoid the blank page in front of me), I sometimes write a few paragraphs, or even finish a post on my new blog.
And after I run out of procrastination excuses, I visit the gym. Once around the weight room, sometimes skipping a few stations because it's getting late. And hey, I can always do squats at home, right?
Sure, there are times I draw upon strength that surprises me. I find it useful when it's either push myself or die. Like when I'm scrambling up (or down) a steep mountain slope, hanging on for dear life instead of sliding down to certain death.
Or taking on a 32 mile ultra-marathon with over 4000 feet of total elevation gain. Running a loop from the start line twice, and oh, it was so tempting to quit after 16 miles. It took every mental muscle I had to keep my legs moving, because I set my goal and I did not want to fail.
Those are extreme examples. I don't encounter them every day. What I do face is the knowledge that I could do much better in so many routine areas of my life. I could write more. I could have an organized house. I could keep the pet hair and dust bunnies under control. Well, you get the idea.
My catalyst for change came in a surprise package. Last year I signed up for National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, as we affectionately call it. During the month of November, I managed to type out a novel with over 50,000 words. That's an average of 1,667 words per day. Say that out loud. One thousand, six hundred, sixty-seven words.
It was easy, and it was also one of my most challenging undertakings. Easy, because I didn't have to try to write the perfect novel that would soon pop up on the New York Times bestseller list. I just had to hit the word count with some semblance of a plot. Challenging, because I wanted it to actually be a story, so while typing furiously I also needed to type somewhat thoughtfully. And it's difficult to pound out almost 1,700 words on average each day for 30 days.
I succeeded. I knew I would, because deep inside, this was life or death. Not physical death, but the death of a dream. Like so many of us, I have stories inside me begging and banging to get out. Like so many of us, I kept thinking "someday, I'll write a book."
My "someday" began last November. My little novel still sits, mostly unedited, and quite neglected. But it is there, and it has given me the courage to try again with another story.