I recently came across a fascinating new book by Frank Partnoy, Wait: The Art and Science of Delay. In the book, Partnoy turns conventional wisdom on its head by suggesting that some of the best and most important decisions that we make in life are made at the last minute, after careful reflection and perhaps even intentional delay. Flying in the face of Malcolm Gladwell’s 2005 book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Partnoy suggests that in many aspects of life–business, relationships, education, sports–we all can benefit from just a bit more time.
This got me thinking, as well, about my work with kids, both in school and in my own home. While there is certainly a premium placed these days on decisiveness and quick thinking, it also occurs to me that in the race to get things done faster, we may be losing something, something which may be at the heart of doing things right rather than just fast. The lessons for educators and parents are profound.
Additionally, as a runner, I find this concept thought provoking and slightly confounding. While not directly related to decision making, much of the runner’s life depends on waiting and patience. Whether in training or racing, it is important for many of us to take the ‘long view’ while placing an emphasis on quality over quantity. And yet, at times, that can be extraordinarily difficult as we get caught up in the moment or, as Gordy Ainsleigh likes to say, “The exuberance of the morning.” When this happens, typically the heart wins out over the head and the results can be disappointing and perhaps even destructive.
In Wait, Partnoy suggests that we have long known the implicit value of delayed gratification. That, indeed, it is true that “good things come to those who wait.” But in an increasingly competitive and hard-driving environment, we have difficulty reconciling patience with results. At the risk of looking apathetic or lazy, many of us jump into things before we are ready. From my experience, the long distance running endeavor can teach us much in this regard.
Two stories from my running past may illuminate this point:
I can distinctly recall a moment several years when I was in the midst of a heavy training cycle. Each run built on the previous one and I had a feeling of confidence and flow in my daily training that was thrilling. As was my tendency back then, I became overly excited with my fitness and on a whim registered for a 50-mile race that was a month before my target 100-mile race. Thinking I could easily recover in time, I ran hard at the 50, had a decent result, and a month later shuffled to the finish line of my target 100 with a sub-par result. Not willing to wait, I ended up unsatisfied in the end. Afterward, I forced myself to admit that I should have waited.
A few years later, as I was building up for what was to be my 10th and final Western States, I faced a similar circumstance. My fitness was peaking in the weeks preceding the race and I felt like a race horse in the starting gate of the Kentucky Derby. Recalling my experience from a few years prior I paused, and rather than sign up for a last minute tune-up race, I took two days completely off. Then, following a final 10-day push with no racing and little intensity, I tapered. While that Western States was by no means my fastest or best result, my willingness to delay and wait for the main event served to make the experience far more enjoyable and fulfilling than any of my previous races. The waiting paid off!
As I continue to evolve as a runner, educator, and father, the lessons of Wait will continue to resonate with me. And, indeed, in those moments of great excitement and exuberance, I will force myself to slow down, look around, and make sure I am ready. I hope you all will do the same.
AJW’s Beer of the Week
This weeks Beer of the Week comes from right here in my hometown of Staunton, Virginia. Redbeard Brewing Company is a small ‘nano-brewery’ here in town specializing in small batches of tasty beers. Recently they released an incredible Sweet Potato Pie Porter. While not overly sweet, it is also not bitter or burnt tasting. In fact, it’s just about perfectly balanced. While only available in the brewery currently, I mention it here as I have a feeling it will be making a splash on the festival scene very soon!
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- Do you trend toward making decisions at the spur of the moment, without too much thought? Or, do your decisions come after pondering for quite some time?
- Are there some decisions in life that you make patiently, while others you decide more quickly?
- Do you find that maintaining patience is challenging in our society, which is increasingly focused on instant gratification?
- When has your running benefited from sudden decision making? And how about when it has benefited from patience?