The thing the best wasn't willing to do

A while  ago I went on a bike ride with one of the best triathletes of all time. I love any opportunity to talk to someone who has been the best in their field. On our ride,  I became a Paul Homes type “interviewer” and started firing away a million questions about anything I could think of, I asked him about his hardest race, his toughest competitor and so on. After a while he must have got sick of my questions as he  started asking me about my life. I mentioned that I played guitar to which he responded, ‘I wish I could play the guitar, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do’. I suggested that he should buy one and get some lessons but he wasn’t so keen ‘I’m too old to pick that up now’.  

For some people, the older they get the less willing they are to learn new skills. It’s like they get a set of skills in the early years of their life and these skills will determine their path for the rest of it. The triathlete I was talking to was in his mid forties and he thought he was too old to start a new skill, a skill that he admitted he would love to do. Sure, there would be a period during the first couple years of practice where he wouldn’t be that great but after a few years he would find that he’d be able to start playing with others and creating his own music. At this stage he’d be closer to 50 and still have many years of playing music in front of him.  

So why do some of us reject learning new skills as we get older? Maybe it’s because we don’t want to be bad at something or maybe it’s because life is safe when we do what we know we are good at. To be honest I don’t have the definitive answer to this question but I do know that if we add new skills to our life in areas that we are interested in we have a richer life experience.  

When thinking about exercise don’t always look to what you have done in the past. A new sport that requires you to learn new skills could be the catalyst you need to recharge your love for exercise. Who knows where this new path could take you?


How do you make choices? 

I've just finished reading an interesting book called Nudge by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein. One of the key concepts in the book was the idea of 'Choice Architecture'. Thaler and Sunstein's theory is that  a lot of the choices we make in our lives can be hugely influenced by the way a person or organisation presents the choice to us. The book states that Choice Architects have a huge influence on our Health, Wealth and Happiness.  

When you think about this, it is clear that this influence affects all of us in all aspects of our lives. Research has shown that items in retail stores that are displayed at eye level are the ones that get chosen more often. At the high end of consumer research, retailers know which way people will turn when they first walk into a store so they set their stores up to capitalise on this. 

I think we are all aware of instances of choice architecture at some level of our lives. But after reading this book I wondered what changes a Choice Architect would create in peoples’ lives if their job was to create an environment that enhanced the chances of us making healthy choices. The focus in the book was more on how Choice Architects affect us on the subconscious choice level but what if they were to help us on the conscious level?.  

Think about your life and all the times you have to make decisions about your health and fitness. If you had to employ yourself as your own Choice Architect to help you improve your decision making process around what would you change? Maybe you would make sure you always have a healthy snack before you do your shopping so you avoid buying bad foods you are tempted to choose when you are hungry. You might decide that you’ll get up ten minutes earlier in the morning to make your lunch which stops you from buying takeaway food at work. Instead of having chocolate biscuits at eye level in the pantry you have a bowl of fruit.  

Over the next week pretend that you have a Choice Architect with you all the time. Recognise the daily choices you make and think about how you can present the healthier choice in a way that is easy to choose, and after a while it will become a habit.


My new found fear

Over the last ten years of my life I have been an extreme exerciser. I was sitting down thinking about this the other day and I thought I would try to figure out how many hours I have done, after an honest assessment I worked out that I have done over 11,500 hours of exercise in this time! I’ve raced Ironman triathlon to a high level, had days where I taught 6 classes at the gym and I’ve completed training weeks where I exercised for over 60 hours at high intensities.  

But something really interesting happened to me a few months ago, I got afraid of doing exercise! Let me explain, I stopped competing in Ironman around 18 months ago and after pulling away from triathlon I decided to change my focus away from the swimming and cycling aspects of triathlon. I wanted to have some physical challenges that didn’t take up so much of my time so I got back into the weights room, did some yoga and competed in some running events. But a few months ago I decided to do the Challenge Wanaka Half Ironman as something fun to train for over summer.  

Once I had signed up for the race the fear overwhelmed me. For some reason I was scared of doing the training for this event. I found that I doubted if I could complete a three hour training ride, something that was easy for me 18 months earlier. My mind was full of doubt and I found myself skipping sessions and losing focus for this race. 

This experience gave me an insight into how a lot of people must think about exercise in general. When we first stop doing exercise we think we’ll get back into it in a couple weeks - but the longer we leave it the more unrealistic we become about how hard it is. It’s like exercise has grown into this big scary monster that we are afraid to confront, and the longer we leave it the bigger and scarier it gets.  

The way I broke down these fears was to start small and build from there. I did an hour training ride, then a two hour ride and in no time I was back up to over three hours wondering what I had been worried about.  

Don’t be afraid, get out there and do something, your big scary monster will disappear.