The Olympic Pursuit of Health and Fitness

Olympics and Health

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As I watched some of the world’s best athletes compete last month, I started thinking about all of the time, energy and resolve they devoted over the past four years to earn a brief, but well-deserved moment in the spotlight. Spotlights that may last as little as a few minutes (think skiing, ice skating, or snowboarding). And from there, only three of the top eight or ten competitors from across the world actually win a medal. Considering odds like that, I am amazed that anyone would want to devote that much time for a payoff that seems so distant. But thousands of athletes do. Every four years. And here’s what we can learn from their efforts:

The Power of a Motivation and a Belief

While only one person can win the gold medal every four years for an event, there are hundreds, if not thousands of Olympic hopefuls imagining, and believing, that they have what it takes to be the one to win it. And with the strength of their convictions, they train for years to have the opportunity to bring the dream to fruition.

Similarly, you must ask yourself what motivations you have driving you to improve your physical activity or eating habits. It could be running a 5K, feeling better about yourself, setting a good example for your children or wanting to make sure you’re able to enjoy your golden years just as much as (if not more than) your younger ones. When you find the right motivation for yourself, you will sense that something inside you has changed; an internal switch has been turned on that makes living more healthfully an easier decision. I call this moment “Flipping the switch.” Everyone’s switch is different and it may change over time. The key is to explore in this moment, what is so important to you, that it’s worth living healthier for. Then go get it!

Focus on Your Strengths

(This example is slightly outdated, but works well.) Being six feet, four inches tall with a long torso, a huge wingspan and hypermobile joints, Michael Phelps was designed to have the potential to be a great swimmer, not necessarily a great gymnast or Olympic weightlifter. And so he trained to become arguably the best Olympic swimmer the world has ever known. If he trained every day of his life, could he have become a good gymnast or weightlifter? Probably. But the best ever? Probably not.

So when you’re choosing what changes to make to improve your eating or physical activity habits, consider your strengths:

  • – Do you like to cook? Try preparing a few big-batch, healthy meals to eat throughout the week. Or try looking up and cooking some new, healthy recipes that look tasty. Or make it a point to try cooking with a new fruit or vegetable every week.
  • – Always on the run but don’t mind eating your fruits and veggies? Make it a point to pack or pick-up some healthy snacks to have with you every day that have a fruit or vegetable in them. Or review the menus of restaurants you frequently go to and determine the healthiest options available that you may enjoy eating.
  • – Prefer to focus more on physical activity? Review your weekly habits for opportunities to sit less, walk more, or get one extra workout in. The best changes to make are the ones that are easiest for you to do.

Results Come From Preparation and Practice

Olympians spend the majority of their lives preparing and practicing for the Games. They create training plans. They spend hours practicing daily. Many even meditate and imagine themselves successfully performing in the Olympics (visualization has been shown to have very positive results in high-stress situations such as in competitions, when speaking in public or when dealing with a food craving or temptation). But remember, even the best swimmers, skiers and hockey and basketball players did not know how to swim, ski, skate or shoot a basketball at some point in their life. They had to learn it. And then practice to get good at it.

Eating better or becoming more physically active usually requires learning new skills or improving upon some of current ones (i.e. your strengths). Learning to cook a new vegetable, tracking your energy to determine when you’re tired and can be most benefited by a healthy snack, learning how to perform a few new exercises or assessing your daily routine to find ways to walk more. All of these changes are probably not a part of your current daily routine, therefore it will take time and effort to integrate them (but do choose the easiest one for you).

The first step is creating a simple, but detailed plan on how you’re going to make the change. If you’re going to workout one more day per week, what day will it be? When will you do it? For how long? What exercises will you do? Will you go with a workout buddy? The more details you can determine ahead of time, the more likely you are to actually do it.

Then go for it…and be willing to make mistakes. Even LeBron James misses a shot every now and then. The key is accepting our mistakes, learning from them and always aiming to improve. If you remember one thing, remember this: “There is no such thing as failure, only feedback.” The more you practice, the easier the change will become, until it becomes a new, permanent habit. And the results will follow.

No Olympian is an Island

Most, if not all, Olympians had help getting to where they are today. In fact, I’m willing to bet that some of the greatest athletes have some of the best support systems around them. Athletes have some combination of coaches, doctors, dietitians, physical therapists, friends and family guiding and supporting them. Having a support system provides a source of positive motivation and accountability for when times are good and when times are tough.

Your pursuits for living healthier should not be taken any less seriously than an athlete training for the Olympics. Both of you are pursuing meaningful, personal achievements (what flipped the switch for you?), so both of you should be provided with the greatest opportunity to succeed. And that means creating a support system for yourself in addition to all of the tips listed previously.

Create a list titled “My Support Team” with three columns: Name / Contact Info / Support Role. Make a list of at least three people that can support you in your pursuit of eating better and moving more. Ask a friend to be a workout buddy. Ask a relative or close friend to be someone you can call to vent to when you’re having a stressful day and you feel tempted to make poor eating decisions. Ask a colleague who may be very fit or a great cook to give you a few pointers. Hire a great nutrition or fitness coach to motivate and guide you. Create a team that maximizes your chance for success.

The 2016 Summer Olympics are two years away and will be held in Rio de Janeiro. Where will you be in 2016? How will you feel? How will you look? Who will be around you? How will you be eating? How active will you be? What will your life look like? Now go get it!

Weight Loss Success Stories: Pulling Inspiration from Jealousy

Weight Loss Success: Choose Inspiration

Weight Loss Success:
Choose Inspiration
Photo: Microsoft Images

In many ways, jealousy and inspiration are fundamentally opposite emotions.  They are yin and yang. Why does one story of success make us feel inspired to do better ourselves, while another makes us feel jealous and say, “what the hell – why them, not me?”  The success can be the same, but the interpretation yields two different feelings.  A story first, then three steps and three questions you can use to turn jealousy into inspiration:

One of my clients has been making significant strides towards being more mindful of his eating habits – less alcohol, more fruits and veggies, and smaller portions.  As a result, he’s been reaping the rewards of his habits, to the tune of nearly 15 pounds of weight loss over the past five months (plus an extra 30 pounds he lost before we started working together). People who saw him every few months were making comments – “wow, you look so great!”  Others who hadn’t seen him in a couple of years barely recognized him.  Awesome. But then he recounted a recent time he went out to dinner with some friends.

He told me that they went to an artisan pizza place and rather than indulge in many slices of pizza like most of his friends, he had one slice and ordered a couple of salads.  In a moment of strong social eating temptation, my client held true to his priorities and habits that have been getting him results, satisfaction and compliments.  He told me that, after ordering the salads, a few of his friends asked him if he was “anorexic.”  If you asked his friends why they said it, I’m sure they’d say it was just a joke – but behind every joke is a twinge of truth.  Most of his friends are battling with weight issues as well – and were not mindful enough to have less pizza and more salad (or any salad, for that matter).

The people who congratulated my client over the past weeks have recognized his efforts and encourage him to continue his positive path.  His friends at the pizza place, however, were not so positive.  Why weren’t they positive?  It’s probably not my client’s fault – he didn’t force them to eat the salads.  So what was going on within the minds and feelings of my client’s friends when he ordered those salads.  Anger at the rejection of their “usual” habits?  Jealousy that they don’t have the strength to make a similar choice?  Sadness that they aren’t getting my client’s results?

Here’s an equally viable situation that could have happened: What if my client’s decision to order salad inspired his friends to all order more salad and less pizza instead?  And not call him anorexic (which for the record, he is not – he’s fit and has made great strides to eat balanced in a world that doesn’t promote balanced eating).  It would have been a positive reinforcement for my client’s improved eating habits, and would have likely been a step in the right direction for his friends’ eating habits too.  But alas this did not happen and it got me thinking, “What makes a situation, such as my client’s weight loss and healthy eating decisions, inspiring for some people, but jealousy-inducing in others?”

My thoughts boiled down to three primary variables (I’m sure I missed a few things, please tell me so I can make this post better!):

  1. Do I want that person’s result?  Do I want to accomplish a similar goal?
  2. How similar is that person to me?  Do we share certain traits or circumstances in common?  History, friends, desires.  Do we share a similar story?
  3. I can vs. I can’t: Do I feel that I have the ability or control to accomplish that goal for myself?

In a lot of ways, the first two variables mainly dictate whether we care about the person’s accomplishment.  The more we want someone’s result, and the closer we are to that person, the more we tend to care about it.  Most of us would like to have more money, yes?  How do you feel about the founders of Google or Bill Gates being a billionaire?

Now, how would you feel if your colleague created a start-up that made him or her tens of millions of dollars and you were working with them at their old job, knew practically as much as they did, but they were the one who made it big.  Would you be happy for them and inspired to do similar?  Or would you be wishing that their start-up crashes? (Btw, that’s called schadenfreude)

As you can see from the example above, once we care about an accomplishment – how we perceive it makes all the difference between inspiration and jealousy.  Those who have an “I can” attitude, feel inspired by a friend’s or colleague’s success and will give encouragement or ask for help and support to do similar.  Those that feel “I can’t” tend to land in the jealousy-zone.  And jealousy can rear its ugly head in many ways: comments, “jokes”, keeping unhealthy food around, pressuring people into less healthy decisions, etc.

Nothing positive can come from jealousy.  If something bad happens to someone else, you’re rarely better off.  And even if you are, your feeling of jealousy is not what caused the bad thing to happen to them.  You may feel smug for a moment, but once that feeling dissipates you end up back at square one, and all that’s left is a hurt friend, acquaintance, colleague or family member.

So the question ultimately becomes, how can we recognize jealousy and turn it into inspiration?  It’s about turning the “I can’t” into “I can.”  I came up with a three step, three question process:

  1. Recognize the jealousy as it’s occurring.  Inspiration tends to make you feel light and happy (like after a good workout or restful sleep).  On the other hand, jealousy feels heavy, in the pit of your stomach.  You’ll likely feel a mixture of anger, sadness, confusion and loss of focus.
  2. As soon as you recognize you’re feeling jealous, ask yourself three pivotal questions:
    • Question One: Ask Yourself Why?  Why am I jealous of this person’s situation or accomplishment?  Is it something I wish I achieved?  Do I feel that I can’t reach a similar goal?  Rather than focusing on the person, focus on the situation – the results.  Look for the reasons behind the feeling to uncover the root of the jealousy.  Just keep asking “why?”
    • Question Two: Ask Yourself How? When you find the root cause of the jealousy, such as the person is losing weight or has become successful, ask yourself how they’ve gone about doing it.  Odds are it didn’t happen overnight.  Appreciate that getting results is often the consequence of weeks, months or even years of effort.  If you can, try writing down how you think someone went about accomplishing their results.  Better yet, you can ask them yourself if you reach out to them, via email, phone or even across the table.
    • Question Three: Ask Yourself What?  This is where “I can’t” becomes “I can.”  Upon reviewing how your friend, colleague or acquaintance achieved their results or success, consider one action you can take to start down a similar path to achieve your own desired results.  It doesn’t have to be a big step, nor the exact same step as the other person.  It just has to be a forward step.
  3. Take action on your what as soon as you can.  Order a salad.  Reach out to your successful friend and ask if they can mentor you.  Take a class to improve a related skill.  Or just call the person and tell them how genuinely happy you are for them.  With action comes inspiration.

Jealousy can be a good feeling – it means inspiration is just a why?, how?, and what? away.

Tell Me: What’s inspired you today?  Comment below.

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