The Ladybug Principles

Six years ago my dad and I wrote a self-help manuscript about running. Really it's about motivation and sticking to a goal, using running as a stand-in for any goal worth pursuing. Having run 17 miles of the New York Marathon in 2 hours 43 minutes hardly qualified my dad as an expert on the sport. But his years as a psychologist treating veterans and leading groups to help people break bad habits gave him insight into how to get people to stay focused. And he loves to run.

We called it the Ladybug Principles because we'd been using ladybug stickers to mark days that we ran on our calendars. We gave the principles lighthearted names to make them easy to remember, but based them on a mix of classical wisdom and modern cognitive-behavioral science. During that summer we ran as much as we could and kept track of what ideas worked and what didn't. We cringed and amused ourselves looking back at a painful early draft where there were about 32 sections all divided into "hurdle" and "solution". Glenn Davis could not have gotten through them all.

When we finished we sent the book out to exactly one agent and one editor. Both gave feedback for how to make it more sell-able. We thanked them, gave their ideas a few moments thought, and moved on to other projects. We took our own advice in many areas but not in the one where we faced the strongest resistance and needed it the most.

Five years later, the manuscript found its way into the hands of a resident at the psychiatric hospital where my dad supervises first year post-docs. She is an actual runner as in she won the New Jersey Marathon, in 90 degree heat. Her main focus this year is to lead a running group as part of the treatment for patients with post-traumatic stress disorder. And guess what she's using as her guide? Rules with names like: The Flossing Principle and The Banana Split Corollary. These sections are actually printed in her medical records. A few weeks ago she told my dad, "We're moving onto Johnny Appleseed."

My dad and
I keep laughing over the names being taken seriously. Although the truth is, the names themselves are probably not. But the ideas are. And maybe that's the essential point that we were missing, taking them seriously ourselves. We'll put off eating and sleeping and normal human functioning to work 'til the last dog dies for other people's projects, but rarely for our own.


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