Unblocking Your Potential

It’s no huge mystery as to what it takes to be “great” in any field of endeavor. Yet, to be brutally honest, not many of us are all we could be. So if we know what goes into being better, why aren’t we at a higher level of performance in more things?  Pick your excuse, I’ve used just about all of them. It’s not my intention to give any more excuses, nor is it my purpose to beat up on you or myself. I’d like to break down a method used in describing the “Diffusion-of-innovations” as I think it enables us to understand how to practically achieve “greatness” in anything and in particular running.

I probably wouldn’t get much of an argument out of anyone if I said that to be a great runner we need various amounts of strength, speed and endurance, over time. But knowing that alone isn’t enough. We need to understand what is stopping us from taking all the necessary steps. To this end, we can look at the “characteristics of innovations” and how individuals see them as blocks or otherwise.

In his seminal work, Everett M. Rogers he talks about 5 things that explain the pace, slow or otherwise, of the adaptation of new innovations. Let’s look at those in relation to adopting the habits needed to be better (great) runners.

1. Relative advantage is “the degree to which an innovation is perceived as better than the idea it supersedes.” So is getting up and running around the block a “better idea” than staying on the couch and drinking beer? Not to most of us.

To be able to link directly today’s action and connect them to our future “better” self is a big ask for us. After all, we are only human. The hardest part of anything is starting it, and it takes time before we establish distaste for inactivity. We simply have to find our own initial motivation. I Used to schedule in an “either or option,” making the non-running option the least palatable of the two. Like “An hour jog, with 5 minute walk breaks every 15 minutes” Or  “30 minutes of cleaning greasy exhaust fan filters.” Whatever gets you out the door and keeps you running.

2. Compatibility is “the degree to which an innovation is perceived as being consistent with existing values.” The condom is a simple and effective birth control device but good luck getting the Catholic masses to adopt it. For our purposes, we have to align our “other” activities with our new healthy habit of running.

I actually still smoked cigarettes two years after starting running, but I really wasn’t a “runner” until I quit smoking and brought more healthy alternatives into my life. We all know what isn’t “healthy”, just do less of that and more of what is. It’s a total package and, you can’t live like “Oscar” from the “Odd Couple” during the week and become “Felix” on the weekends. Not and be successful long term.

3. Complexity is “The degree to which an innovation is perceived to be difficult to understand and use.” When training to be a great runner there is no need to complicate things as complications, at their worst, will lead to non-compliance.

An example, as it relates to your running training plan is to schedule a little a lot over a lot a little.   A thorough training plan of 7 days a week of plus 10K days will get you some ways, but more often than not this type of training is only done in the short term and given up in frustration due to burn out syndrome at a later date.

We, humans, are creatures of habit, but you won’t build a habit if you don’t do it on an extraordinarily frequent basis. Compliance is king when it comes to building habits and a little a lot is always going to be easier to do and continue to do than a lot a little of the time.

4. Trialability is “the degree to which an innovation may be experimented with on a limited basis.” This is more obvious in relation to adopting new innovations but still relevant to our task of being better runners.

It has been found that people are more likely to adopt a new product or change when they can try it on a partial basis before going all-in. We, as runners, also shouldn’t be putting pressure on ourselves to do too much too soon and change our life totally from the start.

As I said, a healthy lifestyle is a total package, but it is better for our long term running life to get addicted slowly and to progress from lesser to longer distances. Doing it this way we will be sure that we like it and when the decision to take running from part time to full time occurs, it will come from us and therefore it’ll be less likely that we will break from it when the going gets tough in our future running life.

5. Observability is “the degree to which the results of an innovation are more visible to others.” The easier it is to see the positive results of an innovation (or your running), the greater chance you’ll adopt it (or continue to run).

Not too many people will tell you (especially those that want to sell you the latest “get fast” product) that to be great it will take 10 to 15 years of consistent effort. Not that there can’t be good times along the way, there will be, but distance running is a long term proposition. Nevertheless to enable us to see that end, it’s important to see benefits in the short term. I’d suggest that on starting running or a new running program you take stock of your current fitness in every detail. Take note of everything from the obvious (weight, 3K time, resting heart-rate) to the secondary indicators of fitness (the eyes, skin, appetite). Once you have a complete picture, set about changing it and appreciate even the smallest changes for the better. I always know when I’m fit and healthy and ready to race when people I don’t know glance at me just that fraction of a second more. Not exactly scientific, but when it comes to motivation you do what works for you.

I’m guessing, you, like me, are fully aware of what it takes to be “great” and that you are not interested in listening to more platitudes or anyone making excuses for you. What is needed is a practical approach to help us stay on track because staying on track is half the battle. I think this is a good/great start.

All the best! 

Scott Brown



Diffusion of Innovations (Third Edition) Everett M. Rogers.1983 Free Press Macmillian Publishing New York, N. Y.