What to Do When It Just Isn’t For You
When it hits you, it hits you.
That moment when everything you’ve worked toward…
or dreamed about…
or projected onto yourself…
comes crashing down.
And you realize, this just isn’t for you.
Take my first 100 mile ultramarathon, when sometime around mile 80—at 5:00 in the morning—my race turned sour.
I was bitter cold, wet, shivering, and stumbling my way down the trail at a speed of about 2 miles per hour. I was at my wit’s end, and that’s when it hit me:
“This just isn’t for me.”
The same thing happened three or four weeks into going vegetarian when, while I was out with some friends, they wanted to stop by a Bar-B-Que joint.
“Oh come on,” one friend said. “You know you’re just doing this to impress a girl.” He was maybe a little right (it worked, BTW), but being vegetarian was something I really wanted.
As I stood in line looking at the menu, mouth salivating for a sandwich, I couldn’t help but think that going vegetarian wasn’t for me.
I really wanted to run 100 miles. I really wanted to become a vegetarian. But there I was, in both situations, ready to call it quits.
The Mistake We All Make When Going Big
Dreaming big is fun.
“I want to run a marathon.”
“I want to start my own business.”
“I want to quit my job and live the #vanlife.”
“I want to follow a strict whole foods plant-based diet.”
Just thinking about your dream, whatever it may be, gets the heart and mind pumping like the grooves at a Tay-Swift concert. You get visions of the person you’ll become, the doors it will open, and the things you’ll do.
It’s one of my absolute favorite feelings. But it’s here that most of us make a crucial mistake:
I don’t mean unrealistic as in, “that’s never going to happen,” because I’m here to tell you that you can and should go after the big goals. No, I mean unrealistic in that everything is going to be all unicorns and rainbows the entire time.
Take that van life dream many of us have. I can’t say for certain, but I bet it’s hard to find someone living in a van full-time that doesn’t get tired of the small space, constant dirt, and lack of comforts. And I don’t know many vegans who can say that when transitioning they didn’t at least once wish they could have a slice of cheese pizza or a bite of burger everyone else was enjoying.
Dreaming big is fun, but our big dreams—the beautiful, wonderful, adventurous things and people we want to do or become…
They’re going to be hard. And at some point you’ll almost certainly sit down in defeat, ready to call it quits.
When it Gets Hard, Don’t Do This
It’s no secret I love running. But a few months ago, while training for the UROC 100K, things weren’t clicking.
I began to dread each run, skipped miles for no good reason. After the race, unmotivated and tired, I told myself I needed a month off, and told friends (and podcast listeners) it was a scheduled break to allow my body to rest.
But the truth was, I just didn’t want to run. So after the four weeks passed (when I felt obligated start up again), I pulled out all the quick fixes and hacks I could think of:
- Mixing up my routine.
- Running with friends.
- Listening to podcasts.
The list went on, but none of it worked. When something big gets hard, there’s no simple solution, and each new tweak you try just leaves you more frustrated and discouraged.
And more likely to call it quits.
The Better Approach to Surviving a Rough Patch
So what do you do instead?
Step back. Way back.
Ditch the expectations. Ditch the structure and pressure and go back to the reason you started that original goal. Ask yourself:
- Why did you want to go plant-based to begin with?
- Why is running a 5K, marathon, or ultramarathon such a dream?
- Why do you want to run your own business?
- Why is losing weight (or gaining weight) so important?
Or whatever your goal may be.
I call this your “why,” and it’s the foundation. As you progress towards your goal and build off that foundation, it can get a little wobbly up top, and the safest place is back at ground level. Reestablishing that foundation as your main objective releases the pressure to a point that nothing else matters.
Take my recent struggle with running as an example. Over the years I’ve set major race, mileage, and training expectations for myself. When I didn’t hit those it felt like a failure, and that isn’t fun.
But I started running because I love the simplicity and I love pushing myself, so that’s what I went back to: I ditched all expectations, to the point where it didn’t matter if I ran for three miles or three hours. Once that week or every day. A run was a run, and a run was a win.
And gradually, as the weeks went on, it worked. I found myself running more and more, eager to set a new training goal.
There was no quick fix or hack, and digging in my heals would have only made it worse. I had to step back.
Stepping Back is Harder Than it Sounds
The only problem? Stepping back is harder to do than it sounds because our ego is quick to get in the way.
But do you know what’s an even bigger blow to the ego? Giving up on a goal and declaring it not right for you. Whether that’s completing a 100 mile race or going vegetarian. Had I just given up on either when things got hard, I would have always regretted it.
Next time things get hard and you’re ready to quit, don’t force a fix. Step back and reengage with your original “why.”
You’ll ditch the stressful expectations.
And hang on to the reason you started the goal in the first place.
Because getting over a bump in the road sounds a lot better than giving up altogether.
About the Author: Doug is an ultrarunner, coach, and the co-host of NMA Radio. Pick up his free eBook, Why Every Runner Should Be a Trail Runner (And How to Become One).
Thank you. That was extremely helpful. I keep trying to evolve and failing and it’s because I’m trying too many things at the same time and berating myself when I fail. Sitting down to focus on each of my goals and deciding what’s really important and better yet, if I am close to the goal and realize its not what I want; I can stop and change direction. 🙂
This post could not have come at a better time for me. I’ve plant based on and off for years and finally said no more to the quitting. I want to be plant based forever and I REALLY wanted to start my 40s without regret. So I made a goal. 100 days before my birthday I was going plant based. Easy. I told everyone that if at the end of the 100 days I wanted to go back, I could. Today is day 91 and I have no desire to go back to eating meat. I feel better than ever. However, I still look longingly at certain foods I have yet to figure out a substitute. BUT my why (living a life without regret, a life of no longer willingly harming creatures, a life of peace and calm….trumps any craving I might still have. Thank you.
A lot of times you’re craving spices that come along with the usual dead animal product, or smokiness, or just the convenience. Or you may be needing more fat in your diet. These all can be fixed…. You can actually get spice mixes for things like sausages that carnivores use to make their own.
You also need to let loose of the idea that you must eat the same thing as others at the table if you like to eat out with friends. If the only thing on the menu that’s safe is some peas and carrots and a salad, eat that and have something more substantial to eat when you get home. You can bring your own dressing if needed for a salad. Sneak some nuts or seeds or vegan jerky from home if you can. You will need to train people to stop bugging you, though. Just be patient.
There are loads of commercial products to try to help you out when you no longer want to go carnivore but aren’t that much into always DIYing. Gardein has a whole line of vegan foods that may just hit the spot for you when cravings for the carnivore foods hit. Allegedly, some vegans won’t eat them because they taste too much like meat…. Louisville Vegan has some great soft maple bacon flavor vegan jerky that can be used as a sandwich filling. Ben&Jerry now have a big line of nondairy ice creams that are as wonderfully junky as the dairy line. There are other brands to try for nondairy versions of dairy foods as well. Tofurky has a good line of vegan foods, including many different types of deli sandwich slices. Some brands try to imitate carnivore foods, using appropriate spices especially, others go their own way. They all are generally in convenient ready to eat form, which is a pretty big deal in our culture. Many can be obtained mail order from online sources. VeganEssentials actually will ship some frozen stuff even and is a good place to browse to see what’s available. Or your local store can special order.
Be adventurous in sandwich fillings. Refried beans can be a quick sandwich filling with appropriate additions if you’re tired of nut/seed/peanut butter. You can easily jazz up the latter, though. Try piling on your favorite green (don’t forget to try cabbage) or mix peanut butter etc. with shredded carrots and chopped onion. Nutritional yeast mixed with nuts and/or seeds is great for use as you would dairy Parmesan cheese, it even can be used to cheesy up sandwich fillings as well as for pasta or rice or veggies. A good commercial version is Parma! made from nutritional yeast, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and hemp seeds. But there must be loads of recipes on the web.
Thank you for writing this!! Glad to hear you are doing better with your running. This is so helpful to me today as I am struggling with my eating habits!
Great recommendation! I am going to start writing reviews about many fitness programs on my blog!
Thank you! I really needed to hear this right now :). Really good timing and great message 🙂
This is a fantastic post. Such great perspective on something that can be a huge mental hurdle for people. It completely validates everything I’ve always believed about why some people give up on what they really do want. Big goals are SO amazing and motivating! But you have to fit them into your actual life. Finding a reasonable way to absorb the new effort is so much easier if you look at the big picture and take each small change as a stepping stone to the next. Then if you hit a roadblock or something just isn’t working, or one more new thing is too much right at that moment, the fix is so much smaller. Stop, reasess, back up, adjust as necessary, move forward. It doesn’t all come crashing down and make some people feel they have failed. It’s not all or nothing. Each small success matters. You’re reaching goals. Don’t forget to give yourself credit for that every step of the way.
Thanks for writing this. I was really able to relate to this. In the past I’ve set the bar too high for myself and felt terrible when I didn’t meet my own expectations.
It led to me taking a four month break from
Running. I’ve recently started running again.
This time with no distance, or time expectations for myself, this means leaving my Garmin watch in retirement! It was hard at first, but now I’m actually running for the sheer joy of running, and not to reach some made up ‘goal’. It’s very liberating to do this.
I’m training for a 100k right now. Last year I finished, I was completely broken. And wasn’t able to run for 2,5 months. Races up from 10-20k are physically my sweet spot. I sometimes win them. But the 100k was such a great experience and I just love to run longer. Thing is, i’m having doubts. Mentally those 2,5 months of not able to run where just hell for me. And i’m really scared. Training and running ultra’s give my life a lot more purpose. However, maybe it’s just not for me because my body can’t handle it. For me, this choice, of running not running the race has become a big struggle. And maybe the best choice would be to start but not to push beyond my abilities like last year. The thing is… I don’t believe i can’t make the choice to stop when I’ve started.
As a long-time vegan, once in a while I remember something I used to love to eat, like sushi. As soon as I have that craving, I think of that animal or fish having to have lived a tortured life and then die to satisfy my craving or taste. Suddenly, my craving is gone. It’s a momentary process, but getting back to the “why” of of my personal choice always helps me feel grounded in my choices.
Thank You Doug!
I would love to share it with other vegan athletes and friends! I think it’s the most helpful post I’ve read in a long time! It, actually, made me feel, I’m doing something right!
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