Let me explain what motivates me to keep training, day after day, month after month, year after year – and perhaps this will resonate with you as well.
When Fitness Must Be Earned
It was somewhere around 1987. I was a freshman in high school, and it was the end of physical education class on one sunny day. I can’t remember what activity we were playing outside, but I do recall starting to jog across the football field on my way back to the locker room. Some of my classmates were running ahead. I suddenly realized I was winded and not able to run as fast as some of the others that I thought I should be equal to. What was going on? How did they get stronger than me? How did I get ‘out of shape’ at 14 years old?
I must have taken it for granted, up to the moment, that I had this gift of fitness that comes to the average kid who grew up riding his bike, hiking through the woods in my neighborhood, stacking firewood, climbing trees, playing tag or military, and doing the typical seasonal sports of baseball, soccer and basketball. This active lifestyle kept me moving and fit as a kid could be. Then one day in adolescence, the gift seemed to be gone.
I became aware that the other classmates who were running ahead were on the track team, or the basketball team, or the soccer team or the swim team. They were building up their fitness in dedication to certain sports while I had been squandering mine not getting serious about any one in particular. I understood then that I would have to deliberately earn my fitness from that point forward.
Developing A Longer Vision
That was a pivotal moment in my life. I did not like that feeling of being breathless, of feeling slow, of feeling unnaturally weak. It felt like some of my freedom was taken away. That motivated me to do something to avoid that feeling again. Within some months I found myself on the swim team for the first time in my life and that changed everything. I worked as hard as I could and suffered through several weeks to get strong enough to feel like an acceptable member of the team. I eventually got super-fit.
Fast-forward to 1994. I was an aspiring Olympic-distance triathlete. In over-training mode, one day on a team run something cause a sharp pain to shoot through my knee. That ended my running, and within weeks, it ended my cycling for several years. In mourning over the loss of capability, I had an unusually mature revelation for a 21 year old: it was not worth it to push and push my body just to see how far it could go in these first few years of my 20’s, if it meant I could not use that body in the years afterward. I grieved over the thought that at 21 my legs were done, and I would not be able to run and play with my children and grandchildren.
It was in that time of mourning that I had a great shift in my values for my body. I wanted to be fit and agile in my 80’s and 90’s, not have a body wasted from athletic abuse, just to prove what to whom? It was then that I decided to ‘train for old age’. Fortunately, within a few years I had surgery, and after some rehab I found my way back into running again. But my intense competition days were past.
On My Resume
I was serious about that fit-in-old-age goal back then, and I still am. Over these years since then I have not collected glamorous accomplishments on my athletic resume. At this stage in life I don’t budget time and energy for big expeditions that I might brag about – I’ve got more important ‘quiet’ things to invest that time and energy in.
What I do have on my resume is a 30-year record of consistently getting up and getting out the door to do something to develop my body and mind, week after week, month after month, year after year. I maintain a few activities I like to practice deeply. If I am blocked from doing one activity, I do another. I rarely take off more than 2 days from one of these activities unless I am ill, and that is not often. Some seasons I emphasize one activity more than another, but I keep my capabilities diversified a bit so I can adapt to circumstances.
Using Negative And Positive Reinforcement
I am motivated on both sides – negative and positive. I am deeply driven to avoid that feeling of breathlessness, of sluggishness, of weakness in my body. If kept more than a couple days away from activity I can feel my lungs are a little less open. I can feel my muscles are a little less strong. I can feel my joints and tissues a little less confident and eager to do hard work. I can feel the fluids in my body to be a little less ‘clean’. I can feel some reluctance to get out where it is uncomfortable. I do not like these sensations and am moved to avoid them.
When I do exercise I love the particular way my lungs feels huge, especially afterward. My eyes feel more open, my thinking more clear, my emotions more calm. My muscles feel strong and nicely responsive. I feel my heart pumping warmth and vitality through my tissues. I feel resilient and eager to work in challenging conditions. This buzz lasts for one and a half days, then it fades away. I am moved to perpetuate this continually.
For 30 years I have been hedged into action by this deep desire to avoid what these unpleasant signs of detriment, and this desire to activate what is pleasant and quite beneficial. Fortunately, for the most part, avoiding the negative and activating the positive are totally within my control. I am not dependent on something else or someone else to make these things happen each day.
Being moved by such aversion and craving might be questionable under some circumstances. But I have learned that just as some habits are wasteful of resources and some are harmful, some habits are essential and quite beneficial. These good kind of habits pull us away from destructive things and push us toward life-building things. Whereas a few hundred years ago, ‘exercise’ was built into the survival lifestyle of most humans, recreational exercise in our modern world, done in the right ways, is an essential part of longevity.
Form Longevity Actions Into A Habit
My pattern to exercise regularly is a ‘habit’ – I don’t have to consciously talk myself into doing this because it has become such an integral part of the quality of life. The activity immediately rewards me when I do, or within a couple days I feel the undesirable consequences if I do not. The pattern is reinforced by the feedback I get in either direction I go.
I am a longevity athlete – I am training for old age – or as it might be put, I am training to be on the podium of physical and mental fitness when I am older, while those who thrashed their bodies when younger will not be alive, or at least not be moving very well. The athlete who knows clearly what his big objective is will be careful to not get sidetracked onto efforts that distract, or worse, work against that bigger objective. I realize this is all a statistical game – we’ve got many things we can’t control and can’t foresee – but there are many things we can. So, the work of the longevity athlete is to study the latest science and stack the deck in favor of his longevity. That is the best a responsible, health-oriented person can do.
There are some nice athletic opportunities and invitations out there I could be involved with. I have colleagues, friends and athletes I coach who are pursuing some big, admirable things. Some of these would be fun to train for and to do, but they are not necessary. Some of them might actually be detrimental to my long-term objective. But I realize that many use these pursuits to motivate themselves to do the work that supports their longevity too.
What Motivates You?
Because I know what my big goal is, and I know what my priorities are for my time right now (family, business, study, etc) I have the strength to say No to those invitation and to the pressures I feel to do this-or-that big event to prove something to others. I obviously don’t need those events to get me out the door. Though I am not on the path to swim the channel or run across the country and attain some publicity, I am on the path to study and practice all I can about longevity and helping others get on and stay on that path as well. It can be done, with or without any big athletic accomplishment.
So, what motivates you to get up and get out the door, day after day, month after month, year after year?
Or, what would it take to motivate you to be consistent?
I really hope it does not take a big health scare to finally get you to wake up and take the work of longevity seriously. It is not a gift. Longevity is not guaranteed to anyone, but the possibility for it is increased by an investment of time and energy – like pennies dropped in the bank, day after day, month after month, year after year. It adds up with compound interest. You should really consider starting that investment sooner than later, before any scare comes.
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