Just over a week ago I found myself in the middle of a crazy adventure. It was very late Saturday night and around 3:30 am, I found myself running on a rocky trail, uphill, in a state park an hour outside Sacramento. Although the temperature was around 58 degrees, I was running in a sleeveless jersey. I had jammed my toe into some sharp rocks and I was out of water. My headlamp was almost dead, leaving me in near darkness. And then a pack of coyotes started howling all around me.
And suddenly I realized I was having fun. In spite of the cold and the rocks and the darkness and the coyotes, I was having a blast. Even though I was miserable, I was also happy.
I was happy because I was helping my friend Holly be a total badass: she was running 100 miles in the Cool Moon 100 ultra-run. Not only did she finish that race in just over 30 hours, but she also won the race – as the 1st female finisher.
So when I wanted to whine about the cold temperature and the darkness and the steepness of the trail, I was 8 miles into a 10 mile trail run. But I was pacing Holly, who was on mile 78. Say that out loud to yourself – she was on mile SEVENTY-EIGHT! So when I was cold and tired and hungry, I knew with certainty she was far more tired than me.
The first rule of pacing someone in an ultra-run: there is no whining. When my mile 8 equated to Holly’s mile 78, there was no way I was going to complain about the steepness of the trail. She was 70 miles more tired than me. So I used my grown up good judgement and kept my mouth shut. My sole purpose in being there was to help Holly finish her race. My entire job was to keep her in good shape and good spirits to keep on running.
Running for most of the night in the darkness gave me plenty of time to think. Mostly I thought about how unique it is for us as busy adults to dedicate an entire weekend to helping someone else achieve a goal. Usually when someone has a personal goal to accomplish, we support them through pep talks or we take them out to dinner or maybe we write a check to donate to their cause. Rarely do we get the chance to spend 36 hours at a trail race in California.
However, I think we could all spend more time helping other people achieve their goals. In fact, I think one of the best ways to be happier is to dedicate yourself 100% to helping someone else achieve their goals. As much as I write about goals and happiness, I know that one of the best ways to be happier is to forget your own goals and go help someone else for a change.
Here’s 6 reasons why you should help someone else achieve a challenging goal:
- Helping someone else shifts your focus away from your own challenges and frustrations. You can’t dwell on your own problems when you’re focused on someone else.
- Helping someone else completely changes and expands your perspective. When we’re unhappy in any way, our perspective narrows and our worldview becomes smaller. Helping others makes our view of the world feel larger again.
- Helping someone else creates positive emotions. With the simple act of helping someone, you generate feelings of kindness, compassion and connection. These emotions literally help you become healthier by strengthening your immune system.
- Helping someone else generates hope. When we witness someone else being successful, we see concrete evidence of what is possible in this world. The success of others can generate hope in us.
- Helping someone else creates goodwill, good karma. What goes around comes around and it’s just good karma to do a good deed.
- When you help someone else, you open the door to new adventures, new possibilities and new surprises. You don’t know how the story will turn out, but something exciting is bound to happen.
When I was pacing Holly in the middle of the night, I was 100% focused on getting her through the race. My needs didn’t matter at all. Even though my legs and feet were tired, I was prepared to run another 10 miles with Holly in order to get her across the finish line. The only thing that mattered was getting her to that finish line.
Holly wanted to run 100 miles. As her friend, her goal became my goal. And when she crossed the finish line, I was ecstatic because she was successful. She could cross “100 mile race” off her bucket list and claim her finisher’s medal.
After we all recovered from the race, Holly sent me a thank you card and gift. I told her it was completely unnecessary, but she felt the crew needed a reward. I told her my reward was that I didn’t have to run 100 miles. But my real reward was even better – my reward was in being able to witness my ordinary friend achieve an extraordinary goal.
So today, I urge you to forget about your own goals and your own happiness. Instead, I want you to go dedicate yourself to someone else for a change. Pick up the phone and call a friend and ask them how you can help them do something extraordinary. And then go do that. Because even if you find yourself in a very strange place in the middle of the night, I bet it will be totally worth it.