Interestingly, my blog essay Does Swimming Burn Fat? draws a large quantity of search engine traffic.
No wonder. I am from a country obsessed with losing weight.
I recently returned from a 2 month visit to the US with my family. Because of my work and my athletic activity I walk through many airports, drop in on quite a few pools and fitness clubs, and enjoy running the local routes. Of course, I see what is flashing on the TV screens, what is silently shouting from the billboards, magazines, and inspirational posters- drilling into the minds of the American society.
BURN CALORIES, or else! YOU’RE FAT.
I vehemently concur that something is seriously wrong in the average health of the US population. I notice a dramatic difference in the general physique of US citizens versus those in Europe and Asia, and my traveling friends agree. I have theories about that phenomenon, but I won’t address them here.
What I want to address is what I believe to be a seriously misguided obsession with calory consumption and calory burning.
The analogous image I get in my mind is of a car on a treadmill. The car being the vessel that carries the person (YOU?), and the treadmill being the mindless activities that make the car burn fuel (calories). The make and capabilities of the car depends on the identity you adopt.
Behavior is driven by Attitude. Attitude is born out of Identity. Identity is acquired by Presence. Be in the presence of great people and it will rub off. Hang out with and absorb identity from the people you want to be like and guess what? The behaviors that belong to your identity will be a much more natural result.
All this talk of calories in, calories out is like looking at our car in the driveway, realizing that extra fuel in the tank is weighing the car down. We try to change the fuel, and lower the amount poured in. Then we set up a treadmill on the driveway, start up the car and roll the wheels to burn off the excess fuel each day!
The blaring fact is that a car is meant to be driven somewhere! It is meant to GO. And not just go drive around the block mindlessly burning fuel, or worse, rolling its wheels on a treadmill. No, a car is meant to accomplish something. An SUV climbs mountains and blazes trails in the snow. A sports car whizzes thrillingly around fast curvy roads. A minivan delivers kids to soccer practice. A pickup hauls fresh 2x6s to the jobsite.
On my visit to the US I lost count of the number of aqua-fitness classes I walked past, filled with obese people sloshing away. The overt objective of those classes was to simply burn calories in a way that didn’t continue to destroy those overloaded joints. There was no other goal promoted, no skill development, no vision. I was deeply grieved.
I left America with my heart screaming to my overweight, misguided countrymen inside, “Get out and BE SOMETHING! Do something WONDERFUL with those bodies and minds!”
I have an inspirational talk I like to give on living by Vision instead of Anti-Vision. Let me summarize:
“I want to swim that 5km race.” This is a Vision.
“I don’t want to be fat.” This is an Anti-Vision.
“I am a long-distance swimmer.” This is an identity.
“I am fat.” This is a fact, not an identity.
We cannot sustain a lifestyle based on an Anti-Vision. We have to live by Vision. We will not be successful if our only goal is to avoid something bad. We will have an enormous advantage toward being successful if our goal is set on achieving something good.
This concept of focusing on attaining a positive goal rather than focusing on avoiding a negative was explained once by a speaker who described a canoe trip on a fast, windy river. He told of how it was not practical to simply expend effort to row away from a danger spot in the river, you had to aim for where you wanted to go. Canoeing the river was an active effort of focusing on where he wanted to be, not where he didn’t. The danger spots were kept in consideration, but not what he charted his course by. Using my terms the danger spots on the river were the Anti-Vision. The point he wanted to reach next was his Vision.
So, you want to lose weight? Forget calories for now. Get a vision. Get a worthy vision that engages your mind and requires you to put your whole body behind it. The pursuit of the worthy vision will order your lifestyle to support it.
Instead of asking, “What do I want my body to look like? consider what you want your body to be capable of doing, or achieving? Form will follow function.
- What kind of person do I want to be?
- Where do I want to go?
- What do I need in place in order to take the first step in that direction?
- What diet will better support this goal?
- What kind of sleep pattern will most empower my efforts?
- What kind of skill sets do I need to acquire? Who can teach me?
- What kind of influences do I need to be around to get the right mindset?
- What kind of conditioning do I need to start practice?
- What kind of experience do I need to gather?
We must acknowlege the obstacles that stand in the way. They are only obstacles, not laws or limits that cannot be overcome. Weight is just a variable. Overweight is just an obstacle, not the basis for a goal. And consider all kinds of weight are not equal- nor are all forms of weightloss equal. Weight is just a number- it tells very little about the overall health- body and mind- of the person.
I saw this written on a swim coach’s t-shirt one day: Energy follows Focus.
I had to think for just a moment then I got it. Yes. Our bodies’ resources- mental, imagination, physical- all this energy will flow to support what we give our best attention to.
Focus on the Anti-Vision and our energy will be consumed on a futile effort to escape entropy. Focus on Vision and we find more resources and opportunities available to us than we ever would have realized standing back, worried about failure.
An archer attempting to merely not miss the target will never hit the bullseye but by accident, while an archer aiming for the bullseye every time will grow in skill and strength accordingly, increasing in success.
By focusing on the Anti-Vision, we develop a skill for staying engaged with the Negative in life- call it inertia. By focusing on Vision, we develop skill and momentum for staying engaged with the Positives in life, however un-skilled we are when starting. The universe decrees that we get a return on whatever we invest our energy into.
Let us aim for where we want to be, not where we don’t.
Don’t live on a treadmill, burning calories, taking up space and resources for no good purpose. Get in that car and drive somewhere! Go BE something. Go DO something. Go CREATE, or PRODUCE, or ACHIEVE beautiful and marvelous things. Not only will your health follow suit, we will all benefit from your Vision as well.