A Simple Formula for Difficult Things

March 14, 2023

Consistency. Stress. Rest. When combined with intention and direction, these three words coalesce into “The Formula,” the closest thing I’ve found to a universal maxim for sustainable success in sobriety, running, and all the other grueling, glorious things you’ll undertake in life.

First, you should almost always steer clear of anything claiming to be “universal,” right? Like, toss a match on it and run away. Except when it comes to this beauty:

Consistency x (Stress + Rest) = Success

Maybe you’ve seen variations of The Formula, or components of it cleaved into their own self-help soundbites. But it’s in the interconnectedness that we find magic. Push, recuperate, repeat.

The Formula is simple, but the most powerful stuff often is. Let’s break it down in the context of running and sobriety, with some practical examples.


Another word we could use here is, “change.” When looking to make a change, or see some kind of growth or adaptation, we have to “stress the system.” Not the hand-wringing, forehead vein-bulging variety. Our stress is more modulated, applied with intention and direction… But also with care and compassion.

Say you’ve challenged yourself to run a marathon. You would apply progressively greater stresses to your body over time, eventually building the fitness to reach your goal. You might decide that your nutrition could be improved, then stress that system by making dietary changes. You might even take up meditation for a stronger mind-body connection. As long as you introduce new stimuli mindfully, there are no wrong answers. You’re an experiment of one.

We can draw similar stress pathways to sobriety. While moderation ties neatly to our running example above, let’s look at what it takes to quit. There will be some initial physiological and mental stress. As your sobriety progresses, you’ll face more challenges (social, societal, and more). Understanding that these stresses equal growth is empowering. With that new-found strength you might gradually add new, positive stressors that not only support your sobriety, but supercharge it.


Constantly turning up the pressure without the opportunity for relief is a sure way to rupture the system. In running, this means injury. In sobriety, relapse. But, rather than fearing failure, we could choose to see that periods of rest are when the work takes root.

You’ll hear about people in recovery “working a program.” Sobriety looks different for everyone, but it’s fair to say that one should not, and cannot always be working. Grind all the time, and eventually there’s nothing left to grind. Rest is allowing room to simply be, as you are, comfortable knowing that the times you’ve had to push have earned you time like this to just be. Rest is also tending to the physical and mental “little things.” Sleep, exercise, nutrition, anything that recharges your body and spirit. When you ease up on the pressure, you bank energy for the next bout of stress.

Seasoned runners, too, understand the concept of cumulative fatigue and the necessity of rest. It’s not during the efforts that our bodies adapt and get stronger, but during recovery. Not only is rest critical for physiological repair, it also creates space in the mind for a constantly-renewing love of running. Again, nothing against a thoughtfully-applied “grind,” but it’s the love of something deeper than effort that will keep you coming back.


Whether you’re working or resting, on or off the accelerator, showing up for yourself every day is the foundation of all the great stuff to come. It starts with a commitment, clear in the mind and squarely prioritized against anything that threatens to take it away.

For endurance athletes, the 80/20 approach is a well-researched and proven training methodology; 80 percent easy efforts, 20 percent with some added zing. I’d take it a step further and say, before a person adds any intensity, they should first have a solid bedrock of consistent, easy running over several months. The ease lends itself to faster recovery and greater enjoyment (especially early in a running journey), both of which help ensure you keep clocking in. Consider writing in a running log or diary to track progress and hold yourself accountable.

In sobriety, too, creating a foundation of small, repeatable habits helps build back the self-trust that’s become tattered over time. As with the 80/20 training approach, the simpler and more enjoyable these new habits (aka stressors) are, the easier it will be to keep doing them. Journaling is a great way to track your response to change, and is itself one of the “small habits” you might think about starting. Some others to consider: Reading, yoga, meditation, volunteering, group or individual therapy… The list goes on. The little things are the big things, ultimately creating a more resilient you.

Cliff’s, err… Mike’s Notes

The Formula isn’t a detailed blueprint, more like the “quick start guides” that come with new electronics. Enough information to get you down the road, and a dead-simple reference point while you lock the concepts into memory. The takeaways…

  1. Work. Apply new stresses thoughtfully and progressively to build strength and resilience.
  2. But not all the time. Make space for rest to absorb, reflect, and avoid burnout.
  3. Show up every day. Commit to change, create the conditions, protect your promises.

Consistency x (Stress + Rest) = Success

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