If you play tennis like me or engage in any kind of exercise, you can easily end up with extra pairs of tennis shoes in various states of disrepair in your closet.
For my part, I have to be careful about wearing good shoes because of the pounding that my knees, hips and back take during tennis. I can’t overuse my tennis shoes without risking injury. In fact, my back and hips tell me when I need to change shoes; they start hurting after I play. After about two months, even though the shoes look and feel terrific, I need to make a change.
What then, am I to do with the tennis shoes that, like rabbits, seem to be multiplying on the floor of my closet?
I try to give each pair a special function. I have a pair for walking on muddy trails (they look terrible), another pair to wear to town when I shop for groceries (they still look pretty good), a spare pair in the trunk of the car (just in case I need them) and another good-looking pair to use when I travel and want to be comfortable.
But alas, at this point, my imagination fails me. What should I do with the rest? They are too good to throw away but not cushioned enough to wear on the tennis court.
Along comes solutions that I’m eager to share with you. Athletes in Africa and Latin America are looking for gently used shoes. To donate nearly new athletic shoes to this group, go to www.oneworldrunning.com. Worn-out shoes that are beyond salvaging can be donated and recycled into material used for athletic flooring. Go to www.nikereuseashoe.com for more information.
Aren’t those two great solutions? Do you have any tennis shoes to donate?
Conventional wisdom says we need to set goals if we are to achieve anything of consequence. Like a lot of accepted truths, the idea has its detractors. For instance, goals give us focus but at the same time limit us. If, for example, my goal is to sail around the world, then I cannot simultaneously be working full-time in building my business.
And it isn’t always clear what we are giving up when we choose our goals. For instance, the busy executive who chooses an ambitious financial goal and neglects his well-being may not understand the price he will pay in broken health until it is too late.
The limitation of setting goals can be compounded by a lack of imagination. How do we create big enough goals?
Imagine trying to map an area walking on a mountain trail where you can see only a few feet ahead. You don’t know what lies around the bend, nor can you imagine what the view will be like when you reach a higher elevation. Because you’re limited to the immediate scenery, you’re limited in your perspective. Only when you stand on top of the mountain do you see the entire topography. That’s why, once we realize our limitations in setting goals, our friends, family members and colleagues who stretch our imaginations become incredibly valuable to us.
It is also difficult to articulate goals that speak to our deepest needs. I’ve found that trivial goals, such as cleaning a closet, are easier to list than significant ones, such as changing jobs, preparing a will or saving for retirement. That may be because organizing a closet is a task I can confidently achieve, whereas I am not at all certain, for example, that I can achieve the goal of finding a new job. Consequently, if I don’t know whether I can accomplish a goal, I’m tempted to leave it off my list.
Goals also have the unfortunate consequence of making us dissatisfied with the status quo. If, for example, I set a goal to lose weight, that goal reflects my discontent with my current body shape. Yet everything I’ve learned about making progress with weight loss and fitness indicates that acknowledgment and acceptance of my situation is essential if I am to make constructive changes. I find this statement paradoxical.
A friend of mine, a prominent psychologist, was well-known for his refusal to set goals. He wanted his future to be open-ended so that he could respond to and capture the essence of each moment. He wanted to be in sync with the flow of his life, rather than impose a structure on it. I learned a lot from him because I realized that goal setting for many of us is an ill-disguised attempt at controlling an uncertain future.
If you have ever uttered the expression “Man proposes and God disposes,” you have acknowledged how unpredictable and uncontrollable the future can be.
The other day I was out on a walk by myself, enjoying the blue sky, fluffy white clouds, warm sunshine and gentle breeze. I could hear birds singing in a nearby bush. In the next instant, I was face down in a brown mud puddle, having tripped over a small rock embedded in the dirt path. When I got up, I had a gash on my hand that had broken my fall and a sore knee and shoulder. But it was really my feelings that were hurt. I was embarrassed cleaning dirt, grass and blood off myself, even as I gave thanks that I had suffered only minor injuries. This incident is a small reminder of how quickly the circumstances in our life can change.
Setting goals has the potential to make us unhappy when we fail to reach them. Perfectionists in particular fall prey to this subtle trap. Take the woman, for example, who decides to eat 1,500 calories a day to lose weight. On Tuesday, for some reason, she overeats and doesn’t reach her goal. Since she missed the mark, she decides to overeat the rest of the week and start over on the following Monday. Does this behavior make sense? No, but I have made that mistake myself.
One such goal, for example, was completing a cathedral window quilt sewn entirely by hand. The quilt is composed of small squares that are separately constructed and then hand sewn together. Each of the squares is complicated to make (it has five layers of fabric), and each takes about one hour to construct.
Because of the multiple layers of fabric, about 36 yards of fabric are needed to make one queen-sized quilt. Once the boxes are sewn together, a design fabric is hand sewn on the top, again in a complex, detailed pattern. When finished, the quilt resembled a cathedral window with variegated colors and the illusion of depth.
For seven years, I worked about an hour a day on my quilt. I enjoyed cutting fabric, hand sewing each square and later painstakingly assembling the various pieces, even though my fingers would hurt from the handwork and I’d have a headache from eye strain.
Each time I added a square, I relished the day when it would be completed. Having assembled all the squares, I sewed dainty lace around the sides. The final stitch was sewn on a Christmas Day while the turkey was baking. I remember the moment because, after the initial elation, I was surprisingly sad. I realized I needed to find another project to fill the void. That’s how important goals are to my well-being. I felt the same way when I retired and quickly realized I needed to create new goals.
Setting goals is really how we try to define the future; that’s why I language my goals as desired outcomes. I try not to worry if I don’t know how I will achieve them. Through experience, I’ve discovered that adding this requirement—knowing how to achieve the results—puts a brake on my thinking. Instead, I spend time reflecting on what I truly want to achieve.
At this point, the prevailing wisdom about how to articulate goals is useful. The ideas are summarized in SMART:
Instead of setting a goal, for example, to lose weight and get fit, set a goal to lose 10 pounds by July 2008. This second statement is specific (lose weight), measurable (10 pounds), attainable (a weight loss of 2 pounds a month), relevant (I really want to do this) and time-bound (July 2008).
Another essential element of successful goal setting is writing down goals and measuring progress. For many years, I wrote down annual and quarterly goals that I regularly updated for both my professional and my personal life. Now that I am semiretired, I have a master set of goals that I break down into weekly plans. Each day, after checking the weekly goal sheet, I write down what I want to accomplish.
Articulating desired outcomes is an important first step. But of course, the work doesn’t stop there. The next critical skill involves tackling the goals and staying on track. I’ll save writing about that for another day. In fact, now that I think about it, I better put that writing assignment on my list!
BTCV is a nonprofit organization that originated in Great Britain to promote conservation. Originally named the Conservation Corps when it was established in the 1950’s, the organization expanded its mission and changed its name to the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers in 1970. Its patron is HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Other notables in the organization are Lord Norrie, president of BTCV, and board members Sir David Attenborough, Baroness Hilton and Baroness Miller.
BTCV coordinates the environmental efforts of hundreds of volunteers in over 1,000 communities throughout England, Scotland and Wales. In addition, the organization has international ties and promotes conservation globally. BTCV was also instrumental in forming the Conservation Volunteers Ireland (CVI).
One of BTCV’s recent innovations (1996) is Green Gyms, which involves teams of individuals working outdoors to achieve exercise goals while simultaneously improving the environment. Participation has continuously increased in this popular program since it was introduced.
Appropriate support to individuals and communities
Individual and community empowerment
Corporate responsibility as an employer
In his e-mail, Rob thanked me for posting the blog on Green Gyms and said, “Taking part in one can transform a person's life and make a huge difference to the environment. As well as a really enjoyable calorie-burn, loads of people get a real buzz from the social side, so there's a big 'smile factor' too.”
Being the optimist that I am, I’m drawn to anything that promotes happiness. So I read with particular interest an article I received from my son, Steve, entitled “Cultivating Happiness: Will Positive Psychology and Gratitude Intervention Teach Our Kids How to Be Happy?”
Appearing in the San Francisco Chronicle on December 30, 2007, the article describesthe effect of gratitude intervention—for example, keeping an appreciation journal or writing letters expressing thankfulness—on the happiness of individuals, including families with children.
The impetus for studying what makes people happy versus what makes them unhappy is fairly recent. Nearly 10 years ago, Martin Seligman, now director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center, wrote several books, including Authentic Happiness and Learned Optimism, on what brings satisfaction and fulfillment. Later, as head of the American Psychological Association, Dr. Seligman was in a position to steer interest and research to the subject of happiness.
Today, teaching happiness has spread to colleges and universities, and some of the classes are the most popular ones on campus. The trend doesn’t stop there.
Emotional literacy is cited as a valuable skill parents can teach children. A leading group researching and promoting parental intervention to teach gratitude and optimism is the Greater Good Science Center in Berkeley, California. At this point, you may be wondering why I am writing about positive psychology in a space normally reserved for conversations about fitness.
First, I am convinced that when some of us have pesky feelings that we don’t manage well, such as boredom, anxiety, worry and despair, we tend to stuff ourselves with food. If we eat our fill from the bowl of happiness, we may find it easier to resist other bowls, such as ones filled with chocolate sundaes. Moreover, if we teach the skill of managing mind sets to our children, they will be less likely to medicate unpleasant feelings with food.
Second, practices that improve our emotional health also improve our physical health. Christine Carter, a researcher at the Greater Good Science Center, strongly believes that “families should have dinner together,” notwithstanding conflicting schedules, differences and opinions over what to eat and teenagers’ moodiness. Her studies, she says, have shown the benefits of this ritual in improving the emotional health of children.
Despite the demands of her own career and the complications of her husband’s schedule, she tries to practice what she preaches. Not only does her family try to eat together, but before each meal, they say a prayer of gratitude. They also take the time to review the day’s events, savoring the good moments and extracting lessons from the more difficult ones.
The same practices can be used for those of us seeking to get fit and lose weight. As part of each day’s ritual, we can take time during our evening meal to review the day’s events, expressing appreciation for the gifts we’ve received and drawing lessons from any difficulties. In practicing this ritual, we finish the day—whatever the events—in a state of appreciation.
Third, if I were to pick one factor that predicted whether someone could succeed at losing weight and becoming fit, I would pick outlook. Pessimistic, self-doubting persons have inadvertently stacked the odds against themselves. That’s why I love these research findings. It confirms what I intuitively feel—that whatever our age, a positive, appreciative mind set can be learned and must be sustained if we are to succeed in getting and staying fit.
According to Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford University, almost all children start out positive and optimistic. Sadly, about half of them inadvertently lose that mind set as they get older, because of either feedback from others or self-criticism. To succeed in our fitness efforts as adults, we have to recover that youthful optimism and remember to take childlike delight in the gifts we receive.
Mike Carville, a friend of mine and owner of the South Yuba Fitness Center, begins his fitness classes by reminding students that the muscle they must exercise most consistently is the one between their ears. The best way to exercise it, given the research reported here, is to take lessons from whatever difficulties we encounter and give thanks for the good that comes our way.