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Take a page from Shalane Flanagan’s book and find your why

Take a page from Shalane Flanagan’s book and clear out some time this week to find your why.

Anyone who knows distance running knows Shalane Flanagan. She’s been around as a professional runner since 2004, and four years later she won bronze in the 10,000 meters at the 2008 Olympics. Over the course of her career she’s won a staggering 21 long distance running titles, and at 36 she shows no signs of slowing down. Just last year she finished 6th at the marathon event in the summer Olympics.

Her biggest achievement, though, came in November when she became the first American woman to win the New York City Marathon since 1977.

In February, Shalane was forced to pull out of the Boston Marathon because she suffered a fracture in her lower back. As you can imagine, this is a pretty devastating injury for a runner. She knew she wanted to get back to health in time for the NYC Marathon nine months later, but with her training sidelined it was unlikely she’d be fit enough to challenge for her first title. Sure enough, she kicked her training into high gear once she got healthy and was ready for the NYC Marathon by the time it rolled around. With about three minutes left in the race, she passed the defending champ and crossed the finish line first. An American woman hadn’t done what she did in 40 years, and she did it all on a short training timetable.

Shalane’s what – her goal – was to become the first American woman to win the NYC Marathon in 40 years. But her why – her compelling vision – was to run because it connects her to her 6 human needs.

Shalane has running in her blood. Her mother is a former marathon world record holder, and her father can run a marathon in just over 2 hours. In fact, she loves running so much she married a runner. Her husband Steve was a member of the University of North Carolina cross country team, and that’s how they met. Running is literally to thank for her marriage.

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A course we’re really excited to roll out for our clients in 2018 is called Goal Addiction. I’ve devised a simply, easy-to-learn four-step process that will give employees a healthy addiction to their goal, and give coaches the ability to guide their employees through the steps to make it a reality. The why is the second step in the process, and it’s the emotional fuel to help you reach your goal. And in order to find your why, you need to know the 6 human needs.

As a brief refresher, here’s what the 6 human needs looks like.

So let’s take Shalane’s goal to win the NYC Marathon despite the fact that it would be her first race in months. We know what her goal is, but she won’t actually go through all the grueling practice to get there if she doesn’t know why she wants to do it. To do that, she either consciously or unconsciously connected her wants with her emotional desires. So let’s go through each one.

  • Certainty: She gets this by feeling in control and comfortable by doing something she’s done thousands of times in her life: running.
  • Variety: Every race is a surprise. She’s in a field with hundreds of other runners with thousands of possible outcomes. She might win, or she might not, but the thrill of the competition is undeniable.
  • Significance: This one might be the most cut-and-dry of the bunch. By running in one of the world’s most prestigious marathons, Shalane had the chance to grab glory.
  • Love & Connection: As we’ve said, Shalane’s entire family is made up of runners. Every time she hits the pavement, she’s being connected to the people she loves.
  • Growth: Shalane has said in the past that in every race, you learn something about yourself, and that’s the stepping-stone to growth.

So that’s five out of the six human needs that Shalane gets from running. You only need three to create an addiction. Needless to say, her why to run is about as strong as it gets. It’s no wonder why she’s so driven to endure the kind of pain and torment only endurance runners can understand when the miles stretch into the 20’s. There’s a reason she’s one of the best in the world, and you can tie it directly back to the strength of her why.

This is our challenge every day, and you don’t have to be a world record marathon runner to have a why as strong as titanium. All of us set goals all the time, but where we fall short is connecting our goal to our why. The great thing about that is we all have why’s that can guide us to goal addiction and goal completion. Maybe you want that promotion because you’re in the market for a bigger house, or you’re driven to serve at that soup kitchen because contribution is your number one human need.

Whatever your why is, finding it and using it as your goal fuel will totally change your life. I guarantee it.

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