How are we doing? That’s always a good question to ask eight weeks into the new year when the newness of the year and resolutions we made are already distant memories. There are current events that enhance the likelihood of us staying the course of those early year promises we made to ourselves (and maybe to others as well) of steps we would take to improve our health, our relationships, and our lives. The daylight is visibly increasing, the temperatures are warming, and our own home-grown Alaskans are setting the example of plying their hard-won, lifelong honed skills across the ocean in the Olympic Games in Beijing.
So how do we ourselves stay the course and persevere through the last of winter’s dark days? How do we maintain our original promises to be healthier and more active people? And how do we refrain from negative, counter-productive behavior that seems to offset the hard-won positive habits? First of all, we are not machines that we simply set the program to only go upwards into a healthy lifestyle. Think of it more as a gently undulating upward trek towards improvement. You can’t just turn off bad habits with the flick of a switch like you would alight. There’s nothing inherently wrong with some daily sweets, a glass of wine or beer, and relaxing on the couch for hours. We are not robotic beings. Incorporating lifestyle changes is entirely different from a 100% overhaul. I’ve been doing fairly aggressive sports all my life and my drive to be active is still a daily struggle with the exception of a few things I do.
Relapses into some poor health habits are natural. After all, we’ve spent our whole lives developing them. The key to the good ones winning out is a decision, if not dogged persistence, patience, and forgiveness of ourselves. I like to think of this whole healthier lifestyle as a progression with ups and downs of which the downs are an entirely acceptable part of the whole goal. Have you noticed how the figure skaters in the Olympic Games once they fall, get up and proceed back into their routine? Each movement has been rehearsed hundreds of times. They are counted and calculated moves to the music’s syncopated rhythms. Skaters focus on the immediate move, the count, the excruciatingly detailed rehearsed performance. If they keep thinking about the fall, then they lose track of the course of the various moves that are engrained through practice. There’s simply no time to think about the fall. They have to keep moving.
Skiers, biathletes, ski jumpers, skaters, and a whole host of Olympic athletes practice their Olympic performance for years with the expectation that there will be falls. The constant rehearsal is designed to eventually phase out the falls and the imprecise landings, but more than that, it’s to refine and excel. Again, it’s not the flick of a switch. It’s a progressive brightening much like the graduated lights in your home. The audience of the world is observing this whole progression and learning not just from the steely expertise of the athletes, but from the athletes’ hard-won victory over themselves. The competition is chiefly a battle with themselves before it’s even against one another. I learn from this courage and determination each and every Olympic Games.
The Olympic Games are more than a lesson in “Citius, Altius, Fortius,” the Latin motto employed as the Olympic motto translated as “faster, higher, stronger.” It is a lesson in diligence, perseverance, acceptance, and good-heartedness. It is also a lesson in adaptability. This week alone I have had to alter my hike in the woods twice because a mother moose with her brood insisted on monopolizing the trail. No problem. I can alter my route. We can change. We can swim more, we can sleep hard, we can hike with friends, we can ski further, we can bike longer, we can dance wilder, we can encourage each other, we can eat healthier, we can love each other more. We can, we will, and we do. The year is still young. I swim three days a week with a 90-year-woman with a perennial good attitude and a sense of humor. Keep going. We are almost there. Citius, Altius, Fortius.