What's your keystone - the central thing on which all else depends?


For me there’s always a catalyst – something that starts the flywheel. Something that jolts me out of a sluggish month and generates a fire to move forward. For a while, I thought it was creating a vision, developing goals or making lists. Then maybe reading, writing or meditation. But none of those on their own get me moving out of a dead stop. Over the last few years, I discovered my keystone activity is running.

Here’s the thing about running. It’s the one thing that can fuel everything else for me. I ran a lot when I was younger and then was away from it for a decade. After an injury, I realized I had a lot more I wanted to accomplish as a runner. So I brought it back as an important part of my life. Until recently, I didn’t realize how important it was.

There’s a cult classic written by a long ago roommate of Frank Shorter that sums up how I feel about distance running :

"It’s not something most human beings would give a moment of consideration to, that it is actually possible to be living for years in a state of constant betterment. To consider that you are better today than you were yesterday or a year ago, and that you will be better still tomorrow or next week or at tournament time your senior year. That if you’re doing it right you are an organism constantly evolving toward some agreed-upon approximation of excellence. Wouldn’t that be at least one definition of a spiritual state?" - Quenton Cassidy

That. Exactly that. A state of constant betterment. That’s where I want to live.

There are several different types of runners ranging from the Yogger (slowly plodding along at a pace slightly faster than a walk) to the Split Talker (launches into discussions about VO2 Max and track work when anyone shows the slightest interest in distance running). Someday I’ll outline all the levels in between - I know there's the plodder, the jazzy shoes, the headbander, the tri-guy (or gal), the bowling shoe, the tu-tu, the costume... And I know I’m the worst kind – one of the most anal Split Talkers out there, so I’ll spare you the details.  I try to hide it, but that's what I am.  I have to own it.

If you want to read this, please read the first book (Once a Runner) below.  Trust me.


I get it. I realize that running is not for everyone*, but stay with me. The point I’m trying to make is about the keystone – the thing upon which all else depends. That doesn’t have to be running, but it has to be something. Something that gets you out of your chair and into peak state. Something that is the gasoline soaked rag that ignites you to get up and tear through whatever is next for you.

I wonder how many people know what their keystone is. It’s taken me years to figure mine out. I’ll go through a rough patch and running will snap me out of it. Again and again this is how I get back on track, but I didn’t notice it. I have never felt worse after going for a run. Sure, I hurt. But a run is a small positive step. There’s a “spiritual certainty” that I am heading in the right direction when I run. And it snowballs from there.

You have a keystone too.


Running means.png

When things are right with running, everything else seems to fall into place. I start thinking about eating healthy because food is fuel and lighter is faster. I get more sleep to avoid injuries and recover. I have an increased ability to focus. I start achieving my running goals and goals in other areas of my life. I’m more productive at home and at work. I feel I have a greater sense of control – something about that “spiritual certainty”. I feel better about myself, am more confident and have a better demeanor. I’m more engaged and in the moment. My doctor tells me things look good.

All of the balls start rolling downhill when the keystone is in place. Maybe that’s too many metaphors. But you get it. Find the one thing that gets everything else going. I feel kind of like Jack Palance in City Slickers. What’s your one thing? That’s what you have to figure out.


Take some time to think about the last few times you moved yourself out of a rut. What was the one thing – or combination of things that moved you forward? Diet? Exercise? Reading? A good conversation with a friend? A hike? Was it one thing or a combination? When you are at your best, how did you get there?

What’s your keystone?

*Running is for almost everyone.

If you found this post valuable, please share it so others can benefit. If you’d like some support to help you find your keystone, shoot me a note @ mikesweeney@sabercoaching.com.

- Mike Sweeney, www.sabercoaching.com