Thursday, July 10, 2014

On Your Marks, Get Set, Goal!

I was resolved that despite the beginning of my training coinciding with my family's rafting trip to West Virginia, I was going to make the time to run the trails, eat right, and find my inner athlete.  I had my trusty iPad, so blogging wouldn't be a problem, and what better place to kick off my training than the wild and wonderful mountains of West Virginia.  A five hour car ride later, we arrived in WV and...

I did not run.  I ate poorly.  And I did not blog.

Attempting to look at everything as a lesson to be learned and an opportunity for improvement, what does this false start tell me.  It certainly reaffirms a lot of things I already knew.  Momentum is a powerful thing, whether in its absence, keeping us rooted to the couch, or in its presence, keeping us active and alive.  The lesson I'd like to focus on, however, centers on the idea of goals.
Goals can be problematic things.  They give us something to work toward.  They give us measures for progress.  Some can be fun.  Provide focus and grant a sense of achievement.  All this sounds great, except that goals have a way of turning on us.  When applied to health, by their very nature, goals represent a finish line.  An 'I did it' mentality.  I lost fifty pounds.  I ran a half marathon.  I benched 300 lbs.  "Ahh, take that self.  Hey, someone pass the Cheetos."     
Goals are great, but when it comes to our health, they need to be things we do for fun, not markers of success in our diet, exercise, and wellness.  Goals, as much as they represent something to strive toward, represent completion.  I'm going to get my Master's Degree.  Great goal.  I'm going to save enough money to take my family on a trip to Tahiti.  Great goal.  I'm going to get healthy.  Not a great goal.  Sure, sounds like I'm hung up on semantics, but stick with me.  You can make getting healthy a goal, but what happens when you achieve it?  I would argue, the same thing that happened to me and countless others trying to lose weight and get in shape.  With enough resolve and inner fortitude, you will achieve your goal.  Then what?  After all, you lost fifty pounds.  You ran the Tough Mudder.  You completed a marathon.  Time to rest on my laurels.  Time to gain back the weight I lost—plus a couple pounds.  Now I can eat Doritos with cheese dip and watch marathon sessions of the Bachelor (never seen the Bachelor, by the way, but it seemed to fit).  You can tell yourself that this won't happen to you, but statics say differently.  Odds are, this is exactly what will happen, if and when you achieve your goal.  Because achieving that goal was something you did, not who you have become.
Health and Wellness are not goals to be achieved.  You have to change your thinking.  Your health has to become a lifestyle choice.  What you do, what you are, not what you are going to accomplish.  When you look at health as a goal, you make exceptions.  I'm on vacation.  I can take a break today.  One day of eating like my body isn't the only one I'll ever have won't hurt me.  Your right, it won't, but those exceptions will inevitably become weekly, then daily events.  Trust me, I can make an exception out of anything.  I'm sure you can too.
"I am a healthy person."  It may seem like a silly statement if you're overweight, haven't walked more than the distance from your couch to your fridge with any regularity, and your four food groups consist of processed corn (Doritos), processed potatoes (Ruffles have ridges), processed wheat (pasta), and meat.  But just like that unhealthy person was who you were—it was your lifestyle—so can being a healthy person be who you are now—an integral part of your lifestyle.
It may seem like words and semantics, but consider the power of the following statements and their comparisons.

I'm on a diet (I live a healthy lifestyle)
I try to exercise three times a week (I'm an athletic person)
I'm trying a vegan diet. (I eat a plant based diet)
I just can't seem to lose weight (I'm a person who finds solutions, not excuses)
I'm getting in shape to run a half marathon (I'm a fit person.  It might be fun to run a marathon)

Goals have their uses.  They can keep you honest.  They can serve as markers of progress.  They can even help you achieve an unusual milestone.  What they can't be, shouldn't be, are stepping stones to health and wellness.  In order for you to get healthy and stay that way, it has to be a part of your lifestyle.  A part of who you are.  You have to change your inner dialogue from one of achievement to one of being.  Save the goals for the fun stuff.  The adventures.  The rewards.  When it comes to being healthy, well that is just who you are.   


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