How to Run a Marathon (Or Thrive During a Pandemic)

You probably didn't expect to parent through a pandemic.

Posted Apr 20, 2020

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Source: istock

Most of us didn't train as athletes and never expected to tackle a marathon. Even if you did, you probably didn't expect to parent through a pandemic. But this pandemic is turning out to be more of a marathon than a sprint. So it's the perfect time to revisit some lessons from long-distance athletes about cultivating our resilience during the long slog of this pandemic.

1. Try to get a little better every day.

The pressure cooker of life in a pandemic is guaranteed to highlight any place in your life that needs more strengthening or better structure to withstand stress. And as athletes know, any place you feel uncomfortable is an invitation to stretch and build strength. 

Marathons take training, which means that you keep working it. In the next 24 hours, you'll have 1,440 minutes or 1,440 opportunities to show up with emotional generosity towards yourself and everyone else. You don't have to be perfect; just keep moving in your desired direction. Because if you can improve your ratio of good to bad moments during a pandemic, you can manage anything life throws at you.

2. Give yourself the support you need to be your best.

What about those times when you can't show up as your best? Forgive yourself: You're human. And then find a way to give yourself more support. Do you need more sleep? Less news or social media? More connection with friends or time outside in nature or moving your body?

Or maybe you need to upgrade how you talk to yourself, to be the perfect coach or parent for you? When experienced athletes start thinking, "I can't do this any longer," they nip that thought in the bud and substitute encouragement: "One step at a time. This is one of the hardest things I've ever done, and I'm doing it! I'm so proud of myself." Notice this isn't denial ("I feel great"). It's acknowledgment and support and a pep talk, all in one.

3. Pace yourself. 

Marathon training happens one step at a time. And you don't sprint through a marathon; you save some strength for those moments when you hit the wall. Expect some back-sliding and some bad days. You're in this for the long haul. What matters is that when you miss the mark—which we all do at times—you find ways to inspire yourself and get back on track and headed in the right direction.

4. Focus on how you feel, not how you look.

Comparison is always a thief of joy, and Instagram is not your friend right now if it makes you feel inadequate. Photos on social media of the schedule you're trying to get your children to follow don't build your strength for the journey. What does? Connecting with your children to come up with a schedule together and helping them through the day in a positive way. Starting a family gratitude practice. Finding a free online yoga or meditation teacher you like and being disciplined to do it every day for 15 minutes.

5. Be flexible.

If we've learned anything recently, we've learned that things often don't go as we expected. On those days when everyone's whining or cranky, regroup and start over. Stop, drop (your agenda, just for now), and breathe. Calm yourself. Reconnect with your child. Consider everyone's needs and make a new plan. Flexibility is essential to resilience. 

6. This, too, shall pass.

When you're facing physical discomfort or pain, that sensation can overshadow everything else and seem eternal. But as athletes learn, they can endure it, because it's not permanent. The one thing we can count on in life is change. When we feel big emotions, they seem like we've always felt them, and we always will. But emotions arise and pass away, and the more we acknowledge them, the faster they pass.

This moment is temporary. Take the pandemic, with all its challenges, one day at a time. This, too, shall pass.

7. Focus on what you can control, not what you can't.

Pandemics and marathons are overwhelming. Hey, even without a pandemic, parenting is frequently overwhelming.

As a parent, you've probably come up with a few tricks to manage the overwhelm. Now it's time for a few more. Start by claiming the power you do have. That's the power over yourself: your thoughts and your attitude, which create your emotions and your mood. Your words, which can inspire or injure (yourself as well as others). Your actions, which can be thoughtless reactions or conscious choices.

You can't really control anybody else, even your child. But you have tremendous influence, and you're always radiating whatever mood you're in. Why not start there? You'll see changes in everyone around you.

You didn't choose this particular marathon. But you're learning something about your own strength, and how to support yourself to be your best. You can come out of this crisis stronger and more emotionally fit. Your choices now may even mean that your children will look back and say, "It was the coronavirus pandemic, but our family had so much fun together; we got closer!"

Sometimes the most challenging experiences are the things that teach us the most and end up being the most meaningful as we look back on our lives—even though they're lessons we would never have asked for.