This has been an interesting year, as far as my reading list goes. Since last summer I have read many books. Three of those have changed my perspective on my life and what I am all about. To read a book like that once every few years is something, but to have three of them hit you in the space of a few months is pretty amazing. It just proves that you are never too old or young to re-assess and make changes.
It started in the summer when I happened on a book entitled Brain Rules by John Medina.
He is a developmental molecular biologist and has done great research about the brain; how it came to be and why it works the way it does. He was able to distill this mass of work into twelve rules. I won’t repeat them all because I think you ought to read the book. The one that hit me the hardest was Rule #1 – Keep moving.
The rule stems from a simple question. How did man’s brain get to be the way it is? If you go back to the days when we ventured out from the trees onto the savannah the answer is pretty simple, although the evolution is not. If you are walking upright you need to keep your eyes open and in constant motion to avoid being eaten or to find something to eat. So many of the attributes of our brain tie back to staying in motion, learning to track prey and tell direction.
That links directly to the second life changing book I read, Born to Run by Christopher McDougall.
An athletic man, Chris failed at running due to constant injury. Something many runners suffer these days. What got him going was the theme from many doctors he visited that man was not made to run and that man’s feet were failures. For Chris, that didn’t didn’t make sense. Then he heard about a tribe of Indians who lived in the Copper Canyons of Mexico. The Tarahumara were phenomenal runners and that started Chris on an investigation that lead him to discover a wealth of research and the revelation that we are runners by nature.
The premise of the book is a corollary to Medina’s Rule #1; man was born not just to move, but to run. We are the perfect machines to run long distances at varying paces. From a tendon in our neck that only running creatures have, to the pores of our skin which uniquely cool us as we exert ourselves, to the shape and mechanics of our fantastic feet. Before we had weapons and tools we hunted by running down animals until they died of heat prostration. All other running animals exhaust their heat through panting. Keep them running and they will die. Of course, it takes twenty-six miles or so to do it. There are tribes and groups who still hunt that way.
What we messed up in the last few decades is how we run. Modern running shoes go against almost all that is natural to us. I’m not saying they are bad, they just aid us in running wrong. Born To Run motivated me to re-learn running. I was infused enough by what I read to start an online journal about my transformation (jlgrunr.com). Running has been part of my life for over 40 years. It is something I enjoy and crave. My addiction. My drug of choice. I have been lucky to avoid any serious injury. Changing to a natural style of running has changed the sport for me. It’s all good.
Running is my meditation platform. I am not a sit on the floor, cross your legs and chant meditator. I need motion (do you get the theme?). When I run and get into a rhythm my thoughts percolate, the problems find solutions and I create new ideas. Some people call it a runner’s high. I just call it running. That’s why I smile a lot when I run.
That bridges me to the third book; Quiet by Susan Cain.
It is a book about the power of introverts. Having spent so much time in corporations committed to group processes I was surprised and pleased to discover that most innovation happens when smart people work alone. A notable example of an introvert who changed our lives is Steve Wozniak who invented the personal computer. He and his good friend, Steve Jobs, took that creation and started a company called Apple Computers. The Woz was struck by an idea he heard in an informal gathering of engineers discussing computer technology. His years of solitary study of computers and computer architecture gelled in that meeting. He spent the next three months patiently working alone, after hours, to design and build the first computer that had a processor, keyboard and a display screen integrated into one package. That design became the Apple 1.
Reading the book I recognized so many characteristics of the introvert in my own personality. It helped me understand why I struggle with speaking in front of large groups and my quiet mode in large meetings, even when I am the lead. It is funny, though, because I am considered an excellent manager and a very sociable person. I attribute that to my ability to listen and observe. I’ve also developed some subtle mechanisms that allow me to put on a more extroverted personality. Don’t get me wrong. I love spending time with family and friends. I just prefer them in small groups. I am also totally comfortable spending time alone with my own thoughts.
It also explains why I enjoy writing so much. Whether fiction or non-fiction, I am applying my observational learning to guide the words I use to craft my work. Writing fiction is about building good characters and then putting them in interesting situations to see how they act. Making a character three dimensional is all about observing what you have written and comparing it to reality. Is it believable? Are they acting like a real person would? Do they have the same faults and talents that any normal person would? I think I did a good job of that in SYN:FIN.
The introvert that I am needs alone time and I find that time out on the road while I am in motion under the power of my own two feet. It makes so much sense now. The exertion of running, which comes to me so naturally, is a vent for my own need for solitude. People have asked if I get bored running for hours. No way. I breath with a hypnotic rhythm, feeling the motion and muscles. My senses are at their height when I run and my mind is free to engage as it sees fit.
In my running journal my tag line is: “I run therefore, I am”. When I wrote it I thought it just sounded cool. Now I realize that it is the most fundamental truth about me.