Friday, February 26, 2010

Just Say 10 Words and Shut Up.

My friend Carrie and I ran a half marathon together on the beach this month. It was her best race ever and my worst. Afterward, I told her that if anyone asked me how I did, I would say, “I finished strong and felt great at the finish.” Not a lie.

I was sick that day, so I took the whole thing easy. Really easy. Almost-walking-easy. Therefore, I had plenty of gas left in the tank at the end. “In fact,” I added, “I’ll tell them I ran a negative split.” Also not a lie. She laughed at me.

“Negative split” is runner lingo for completing the second half of your race faster than the first. It’s a good thing. In my case, I’d jogged that whole course at a consistent snail’s pace and then punched it at the end, only because the race photographers were there and I try to look fast for them. So if we’re splitting hairs, my second half really was faster.

You see, it all depends on what you want to focus on.

We sat down to eat some post-race snacks and started talking about her upcoming iron distance triathlon. Each leg of the race (swim, bike, run) has a time cut-off, and if you don’t make it, your race is over. This will be Carrie’s first iron distance tri and she worries that she might not get back from the ride in time for the run. “If that happens,” I told her, “I’ll start introducing you as my friend who just swam and cycled a personal best in an Ironman tri.” We kind of liked the way that sounded.

This is when the light came on. We could transform our lives, one problem at a time, by keeping things short and sweet. It's about choosing the right sound bytes.

Someone asking personal questions?

“How are things in your marriage?”
Sound byte: “We saw a very funny movie yesterday. We laughed sooo hard together.” Enough said.

Nasty reviewer? “The plot was confusing. It took me in a new direction on every page and left me confused and aching for more explanation. The characters were clich├ęs and the dialogue was flat. I was expecting something replete with depth and emotion, but instead I got the worst surprise of my life! I’ll tell all my friends about this miserable waste of time and advise them to steer clear of this author!”

Sound byte: “The plot . . . took me in a new direction . . . left me . . . aching for more. Characters . . . and dialogue . . . replete with depth and emotion. Surprise of my life! I’ll tell all my friends!”

A few days passed. Carrie e-mailed to ask if I’d join her for a long run and training swim that weekend. I expressed interest but saddled my response with a long explanation about my family’s schedule and a general desire to remain non-committal for a few more days. Carrie pointed out that, in sound byte format, the correct answer should have been, “Maybe. If I feel like it.”

So true.

Restructuring the things I say into sound bytes has been a good exercise in spotting the bright side. It’s marvelous practice in not being apologetic for saying what I mean. Sound-byting has been liberating and fun, if not slightly misleading and self-delusional, and I’m pretty sure it’s here to stay. Highly recommended for those seeking self-improvement with a side of good laughs.

Rachel Brady^2

Post script: I signed this "squared" because Carrie's other friend Rachel Brady (yeah, she really knows two of us... no, we've never met) came up with this great blog title. I don't think it's plagiarizing if the guy you steal from has exactly the same name as you, but I appreciate the sweet title just the same. Thank you, Rachel Jingleheimer Brady. Your name is my name too.


  1. Rachel, oh, boy, you just hit on something I've been working on a lot this year (yes, as part of my "I'm going to be positive 'til it hurts!" crusade). Just rephrasing a response sometimes, whether verbal or email, can make a huge difference in how it's perceived. Less is often more (or at least enough), especially when it comes to tricky answers. Fun post!!!

  2. I really liked the book review sound byte. That is brilliant! =) And congratulations on your negative split!

  3. Susan, there's always room to be more positive, isn't there? Like you, I often must remind myself to spin to the plus side. We will get there together.

    Zita, thanks on both counts. Thankfully, I've returned to full health so I hope my next negative split will have more oomph. :-)