Lessons from a Race Car Driver
I heard a story from a friend about someone he had hired to work in his mechanic shop.
The man had spent the bulk of his career as a race car driver, a profession that seems to add a bit of electricity to a conversation. A race car driver? Well, that’s not someone you meet every day! I could visualize a huddle of middle-aged men recalling their glory days, their eyes twinkling as they angeled for stories from the pit, transported back to being little boys enamoured with the roar of an engine.
(Girls could have had that dream too. I’m just saying that in this case it was boys.)
Eventually my friend got around to explaining how he came to hire the race car driver in the first place, and it turns out that racing cars was just too rough on his body. “Even with all of the modern technology in cars these days,” the men asked. “Even with all of the padding and reinforced clothing they wear?” Yes, my friend said. The race car driver told him that driving the car was no problem at all. Stopping, however, was a different story.
Stopping, said the race car driver, had put him in retirement.
When my friend got to this part of the story, I pulled out my little notebook because he had just given me a great way to start a new year of health and wellness advice.
The reason stopping had been so hard on the race car driver’s body is because even with the latest technology and best gear, when you’re driving at top speed and then suddenly a parachute pops out behind you, even when you were expecting it, there is impact. The latest and greatest technology can only go so far when dealing with physics like that. Over time, the residual effects of that impact on his body became more trouble than it was worth, and he retired. In a sense, stopping over and over again had put him in retirement.
I wonder how often we are speeding through life and have something come up that stops us in our tracks, like a family crisis, an illness, a job loss, or some other game-changer. Those events aren’t usually nice gradual decelerations that arrive safely in a new destination. No, there are skid marks, screeching tires, and all manner of chaos! In my line of work, that translates to more fast-food meals, more workouts being missed, and less sleep at night. When the healthy habits come to a screeching halt, there is impact. Keep up that cycle long enough, and it will deteriorate your body, too.
So then I guess the solution is to just never stop, right? If the race car driver had just kept speeding around the track and never stopped, he wouldn’t have gotten run down and needed to retire so early. Tempting, yes, but we know that’s not the real answer. Eventually he would run out of gas, the tires would shred apart, and the engine would dry up. Not ever stopping is not the solution, either.
You know what the answer is, don’t you? Of course you do! The answer is to keep the car moving at a slower speed so when the need arises, changing course doesn’t mean slamming on the brakes and jolting everything out of place. Yeah, it’s the same slow-and-steady healthy living advice dressed up in a new way.
Here are some ways that can be true in your life this week:
In your “new year, new me” zeal, you may be tempted to commit to rising early each morning to go to the gym and exercise, and even enroll in a 90-day fitness challenge to really motivate yourself to get in shape. Woah! Too fast! Three to four challenging workouts a week is a great pace, and less likely to result in burnout or injury.
Having finally gotten the leftovers, ahem, put away, you may be ready to purge the pantry and fridge of all temptation, buy the latest diet book, adopt the culinary ways of your ancestors, and never eat carbohydrates again. Watch out! You’re going to crash! Lightening up your favorite recipes and eating out less often is a clear path to progress, and easier to maintain while also having a social life.
Because here’s the truth: stuff is going to come up. Life is going to happen, and you’re going to have to course-correct, and if you’re careening around the curve at top speed trying to do the extreme version of your healthy goals, you’re going to crash and it will be awhile before you are back on the road again. And that would be a shame considering how much work you did.
So, take a lesson from the race car driver, and remember that constantly stopping and starting took such a toll that eventually, he couldn’t do it anymore. When you get into the driver’s seat of your healthy goals, take it nice and slow. Sure, it’s not as thrilling or exciting as being a race car driver. But, you get to keep going for a lot longer.
New Year, Same You
In case you haven’t heard, it’s a new year, and time for a new you. All of the commercials and advertisements say so! But I wondered, “what if I like the old me?”
OK, I know that’s not what they meant. But still, as I listened to the words and absorbed “new year, new me” messages on billboards and in magazines, it kind of felt that way. The truth is, unless you’re going out every day and purposely trying to screw things up for people, you’re just fine the way you are. No new you needed.
But, if the new year has you thinking about taking things to the next level, adding some new skills, and fine-tuning your current level of spectacular, then you may have made some new year resolutions. And your friendly neighborhood wellness coach wants to know: why?
That's the first question to ask when embarking on new goals: why? Why is reaching the goal important to you? Why is now the time to act? Why are you excited about the outcome? Why haven't you done it already? The answers to these questions become part of the vision statement that you can turn to when the work gets hard. Knowing why you started in the first place is helpful in February, when the New Year shine wears off and reality sets in. And all of the other times when you don't wanna.
Knowing the motivation for your resolutions can also help you identify when it is misplaced. I recently came across a quote that I saved because it spoke to me and so many of my clients when we are going through times of change: "Confidence is not about knowing they will like you. Confidence is about knowing you'll be OK if they don't."
When the answers to why a goal is important to achieve include being accepted by others and reaching their expectations, that’s a signal that motivation is misplaced. Your resolutions and goals are best when they come from a place of confidence, not shame. Your goals are more rewarding when they fuel your heart and soul, and yes you deserve that, regardless of whether others approve.
But how do we get there as a starting point? If the motivation for your goals feels a little misplaced, consider these tips for building confidence in the new year.
1. Look How You Feel Your Best. Are you wearing baggy or tight clothes because you’re waiting to lose weight before buying new ones? Buy clothes that fit you now and the boost will be a big one. I used to put off buying new clothes until I reached a goal weight, but when I needed an outfit for a special event and bought one that fit, just feeling better in my clothes gave me the energy to work on my weight. Get a haircut. Spruce yourself up. When you feel good, good things happen!
2. Tackle Small Projects First. Nothing breeds success like success, even small victories! Get some momentum by knocking out some easy things you’ve been procrastinating on, and ride that wave of confidence into bigger goals. Get on a roll! It doesn’t have to be a fast one. Just get going.
3. Zap Negative Thoughts. There’s a difference between being a realist and being negative. It’s totally healthy to be realistic about whether a goal is likely to be reached. But when you notice your brain saying mean and negative things to you, that will become a confidence killer in an instant. Pay attention to when you hear yourself get caught in negative self-talk, and stop it immediately when you notice it. Negative thoughts can be reversed with a message as simple as, “it’s not so bad, I can do this,” or “just five more minutes and then maybe a break.” Ease yourself into just a bit more, and confidence will grow.
4. Seek Opportunities to Give. Being kind and generous with your time and resources makes other people feel great, and it makes you feel great as well. Even better, serving others connects you with other people who are also serving others, and their positive energy will rub off on you, becoming an endless cycle of good stuff. If you’re not sure about this one, just give it a try and see what happens. I will give you all your happiness back if it doesn’t work.
Confidence is not about knowing they will like you. Confidence is about knowing you'll be OK if they don't. Embrace the new year, the old you, and the awesome power you have to up your game in 2019. Happy New Year!
About This Blog
Each week, I write the "Healthy Heather Blog" in the Tallahassee Democrat. It is republished here in case you are not a subscriber (what???). Sometimes it is really good and other times it is just okay. Thanks for reading it regardless of your opinion!