I’m a Strava member. Never heard of it? Think Facebook for endurance athletes. It’s the world’s largest sports participation platform. Each time I ride my bike or run my smart device uploads my activity data to the Strava website. Others can see it. I can see what they have done. You can “like” or comment on other’s activities. I enjoy it because it adds a social dimension to my daily workouts, even when I do them alone.
As the New Year begins I was intrigued that new data insights from Strava reveals that January 19 is the day people are most likely to give up on their New Year’s fitness resolutions. This date, dubbed “Quitter’s Day”, is based on global athlete data from 2019. Over the past year, Strava athletes uploaded more than 822 million activities, collectively covering more than eight billion miles. Last year’s Quitter’s Day was January 17, 2019.
So those heartfelt resolutions to get in shape and lead a healthier lifestyle last about 18 days. I’m writing this letter on January 15, just a few days before “Quitter’s Day”. By the time you read this letter people will have put their running shoes away for as about as long as they used them.
This speaks to the difficulty of sustaining lasting change in our lives, whether that change is physical or spiritual. In fact, when I come to sustaining a practice there is very little difference between the two. Strava gave three ways to not quit and stick with your goals. It’s remarkable how much each one is also true about sustaining a spiritual practice.
- Ride with friends. According to Strava’s data, people who ride together are more likely to stick to their goals thanks to the added accountability and motivation. One of the first things Jesus does is to call his disciples, to form a community. And one of these most essential supporting factors in sustaining a spiritual practice is to be with others who are doing the same. In our recent Centering Prayer group one of the most frequent comments was how different it was to sit in silence with others than just yourself. There is deep sense of support when we come together to pray, worship, and learn that we will never know if we try to fly solo.
- Consistency is key. Strava’s advice is that “While it may be tempting to ease yourself in by doing your chosen activity once or twice per week, it’s suggested that regular training three times per week can result in double the amount of activity over the year.” Last year I logged 5,695 miles. And while that seems like a lot, it’s just the fruit of taking time most days. The same is true for our spiritual practices. Every day, I wake up one hour before I have to. The first thing I do is spend 45 minutes in prayer and silence. That adds up to a lot of hours every year. This kind of consistency is key. It’s a long term and consistent practice that changes us slowly over time. Diligence and consistency are vital. Jesus tells us that persistence in prayer is essential. He wanted us to learn to keep asking, to keep seeking, and to keep knocking.
- Keep the goal in mind. Strava says, “… having a solid, specific and achievable goal in mind is what will keep you going. Rather than planning to simply ‘ride more’, set yourself actual targets and track your progress.” In a recent meeting with my spiritual director we talked some about self-assessment and the place it might play in practice. He told me that noticing what holds me back is important. For me, being in a privileged position(white, male, financially secure) isn’t necessarily the best condition for practicing whole heartedly. I need a little extra intentionality. It’s easy for me to just sit back and enjoy my life and not go deeper. And while I have learned to set aside time each day, the deeper challenge is to bring my whole heart to my spiritual practices. This is where comparing a spiritual practice to a sports practice may not work so well. There is no way to quantify heart and spirit. But following the way of Jesus, who gave himself completely, can keep us from just going through the motions.
So don’t be a quitter! Welcome the gifts of community, consistency, and intentionality. It works, if YOU work it.
Grace and Peace,