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Last weekend, I completed Tough Mudder – a grueling 12 mile event with 27 obstacles, muddy terrain and wind chill below 30 degrees. So why the torture? I’m still asking myself that question but, the original intention was to break down ‘self-imposed’ barriers.

In college, I faced a series of health issues and, while I’ve come a long way, I’ve never really made it back to normal. Part of the challenge was physical – recurring inflammation, kidney stones, bone density issues…the list is long. But, truth be told, a larger part of the problem was self-imposed barriers. For example, if I set out for a 3 mile run, stopped at 1.5 miles for minor pains, it was OK. Given my lengthy health history, no one pushed me and I didn’t push myself. Instead, most people would say, “you need to take it easy” and, for me, that was just fine. Still, it always lingered in my mind that I knew I could do more. I wasn’t being honest with myself and didn’t have the peer pressure to change.

Then came an innocent call from a friend in November who said, “We’re doing Tough Mudder in February and can’t wait.” He didn’t ask me to join the team. In fact, I don’t think he even considered that I would be interested or physically capable. Within 1 day, I called him back and said, “I’m in”.

For the past 2 years, I’ve made a living training people on how to make better financial decisions. More often than not, I’m asking them to make choices that are unnatural – they’re smart choice… but they require changing habits. Tough Mudder was my chance to see if I could ‘practice what I preach’. Could I do something that, for me, was unnatural? Could I take the small steps required to achieve something big? Could I follow my own advice…not as it relates to money, since that comes naturally…but as it relates to pushing my physical limits. Well, I did and, along the way, learned a few things:

  • Accountability is Everything: Tough Mudder was on 2/11/2012. The date was not changing and that alone created an immense amount of accountability. By having a date, procrastination was not an option.
  • Consistency is more important than distance or time: I started training in early November and could barely run 1 mile. Every other day, I ran. 1 mile, then 1.5, then 2, then 3….eventually 7 and 8. I never missed an alternate day (fortunately it wasn’t too cold this winter). Some days were better than other but, I never missed an alternate day. After 1 month, running outside became a natural part of my lifestyle. Forcing consistency early made the rest of the training much easier.
  • What gets measured gets improved: I used IMapMyRun to track distance and time. Initially, I was motivated by beating my previous time (I’m slow so it wasn’t too difficult). Eventually, I was more focused on distance with a consistent pace. Regardless of which metric I chose, the tracking helped me gauge progress, make adjustments and maintain accountability.
  • Support is better than 5 hour energy: During my training, after ever run, my wife would simply say, “Great job” or “Nice progress” or “Please go take a shower.” Each small comment made the next run a little easier. Moreover, the entire Tough Mudder event was about camaraderie and completion, not time. It was about helping the person next to you and encouraging each other through the insanity. It’s fair to say, this massive halo of support was pure adrenaline.

Changing behavior is hard. Whether it’s saving more, getting in shape, eating fewer Krispy Kreme donuts, or simply stepping away from your computer – it’s hard. The Tough Mudder experience gave me an entirely new appreciation for how difficult it is to overcome personal demons.

At the same time, last weekend, I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment. I attacked my shortcomings and won (at least this time). I practiced what I preached but understood that it’s easier to say than do. And, as I continue on my quest to help people better manage their money, I hope the vivid memory of the ice tanks will give confidence to say “you can do it” with the empathy to truly support them along the way.

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