Sunday, November 26, 2006

Unintended Left Turn

I was at the Special Olympics, watching the athletes compete, when I saw the most amazing thing. It was the 100 yard dash, and the athletes were lined up ready for the gun to sound; ready to let their talents be seen by all the people in attendance. The runners got off to a great start, and within 15 yards one athlete had taken a large lead that looked insurmountable. As the finish line approached, the lead about 20 yards, the athlete took a left turn with the track and just kept going. The problem was that the finish was on the straight away. He finished last, and his gold medal was lost. My eyes were glued to this athlete as I waited to see his response to what I assumed to be a major disappointment. You know what this athlete did? He gave a hug to the winner, to all the other athletes for that matter, and, with a huge smile on his face, found his parents and hugged them as well. He had done it, he had finished the race.

A few months after this event I went to my niece’s swim race. She was four years old, and swimming in a fundraiser where she had 30 minutes to swim as many laps as she could. She started off at an easy pace and just kept going. 10 minutes in I expected her to slow down and take some time hanging onto the lane lines or at the edge of the pool. This did not happen, she just kept going. Her pace never slowed as she took stroke after stroke for the entire half hour. Thirty minutes ended and she had finished 36 laps: a half-mile. As she got out of the pool, she had a huge smile on her face. She hugged her coach, and then found her parents and gave them a hug as well. When she came up to me I asked, “Taylor, how did you swim so many laps?” Her response was simple, “Uncle Scotty, I just love swimming laps.”

This reaffirmed what I, and everyone else I know, has forgotten: exercise and activity are fun, they are available for our enjoyment, and we have ruined the simple pleasures of running and swimming by making them a part of our schedule.

We have become a society of schedules; our lives, and how we live them, are written into Blackberries. From work to play, everything is planned according to timelines. We are sucking the fun out of life by scheduling each and every activity instead of allowing for spontaneous action. What is intended to relieve us from stress, refresh our minds and bodies, has become no different than a meeting planned after lunch and before a proposal deadline; another one of the many segments that make up our day before we can sleep, only to wake up and do it all over again.

Take a moment to look at your current physical goals. How are you going to achieve them? I’ll bet that you have a schedule to run X amount of miles on Y day so that you can successfully accomplish your destination goal. This is beneficial for completing what you intend to accomplish, but not essential. What you are doing is taking an act that is intended to bring joy into your life, and making it a chore. That five mile run is no longer something that you want to get out and do, but something that you have to get out and do. The busier we get the more we focus on the have-to-do’s in life instead of the want-to- do’s, which are ultimately what make us happiest.

It is not that we lose the love for what we are doing or why we are training, it is that we lose the focus as to why we began in the first place. We chose our hobbies because they are fun; as we got better we chose more challenging goals, because it was fun to accomplish new things. As the challenges began to increase, the goals got larger and the commitment became more time consuming. Slowly we began to take a ‘want’ and make it into a ‘need’; completely different focus, completely different sense of satisfaction and fun.

Bringing back the fun is simple, act like you are a kid again. Run in the rain, jump in a puddle, take your bike off a jump, climb a tree. Just do what you want to do, do what you love to do, when you want to do it. Swim laps because you love to, and take a wrong turn once in awhile. This is what will refocus and reenergize your efforts while allowing you to veer off schedule for at least one segment of your day.

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