You’ve probably heard the phrase “second wind” so many times in your life that it passes without notice. What does it even mean to catch a second wind? More importantly what does it have to do with you? The second wind is that moment when your energy is renewed. It’s the sudden power surge that allows you to keep going even after you’ve been doing something for so long you’ve grown weary. And why do you need a second wind? Perhaps you’ve been running a good race, but you’re just plain burned out. Or have you been sick? Maybe you’ve experienced a catastrophic loss or humiliation and you need to figure out who you are again. A second wind is what happens in that moment when you suddenly find the reserve to plow forward in a way that makes sense and makes you feel alive again.
In Murray Bowen’s Family Systems Theory
, the idea of differentiation is central. I studied the concept of differentiation in graduate school before I ever started running long distances, but running has taught me what the term means on a very experiential level. Let me explain.
Differentiation has to do with how susceptible the “self” is to group think or group pressure. The less susceptible to the pressure of others, the higher an individual’s differentiation level is. When I first started running races, I felt an expectation to try to keep pace with other runners. Very naturally there is a culture of competition in most athletic activities; the point IS to beat other people—or at least beat your own best performance. Running is no different. Race participants are known to keep an eye on and run faster to overtake the pony tail or pair of shoes in front of them.
But for me, competition doesn’t feel healthy. My body just wasn’t built for competitive running, and I was (am) totally unable to keep up with my husband and other runner friends. For me, running was never about racing and was always about breathing. Even during an actual race, I wanted to find an enlightened balance between working my body hard and feeling peaceful. After my first few races, I realized I wasn’t like my competitive pals. On the verge of total discouragement, I had to make a choice: Find my own pace and embrace it with pride, or stop running out of shame that I couldn’t meet someone else’s standard.
I chose to keep running at my own slow, back-of-the-pack pace and to hold my head high even when I was the last to make it to the finish line. I call this kind of differentiation “finding my internal locus of celebration” because sometimes, at the end of a race, no one else is left for me to celebrate my accomplishment with.
Lessons about differentiating ourselves from the pressure to meet others' standards or keep pace with them (whether those pressures are exerted intentionally or not) are important ones because a high level of differentiation means a strong sense of self. After a significant loss or a long, tiring endeavor (like raising and launching children, or recovering from bankruptcy, for example), you’ll need a strong sense of self if you’re going to be able to catch your second wind and move forward.
Here are some thoughts about increasing your level of differentiation so that you have the reserve to draw up a breath and catch your much-needed second wind:
- Cultivate your tolerance for going against the crowd. Not all families encourage differentiation. Especially if you come from a family that valued conforming above independent thinking, you may need to practice staying calm when people aren’t happy with you. The next time you make a choice that presumably disappoints someone in your life, try to self-soothe and re-center yourself.
- Think through and articulate what you value. If you’re clear about what is important to you, you’ll be able to draw on these values when the chips are down. I once met a woman who had lost her entire fortune in an ill-placed investment. Although she was devastated and suffered depression following her financial collapse, she also strongly believed that her most significant personal quality was her creativity. She was able to dig into the reserves of her values and climb out of her emotional hole with a renewed commitment to creatively rebuild her life.
- Notice when you feel resentful. Resentment can be a sign that you’re ignoring your own values and trying to fit in with someone else’s agenda. When you feel resentment, take a moment to evaluate if you’re running at “your own pace” or trying to keep up with the pack. Adjust accordingly and you’ll find that much needed second wind is only a breath away.
- Notice what makes you feel alive and refreshed. Sometimes during a marathon, a short walk break can give me just the rest I need to regroup and move on with renewed energy. Whatever brings you joy, provides a rest, or makes you feel safe and happy can give you perspective and the opportunity to get a nice, deep breath so you can move forward again.
Whatever you’re facing—whatever brings you to this place in your life where you need to access your reserves and renew your vigor—may you do so with the highest level of differentiation you can… And breathe.