Taking Personal Responsibility for Our Health and Fitness

I’m really quite liberal, but enough already…

This is the part where I start to sound like the old guy who walked miles to school everyday back and forth in the snow, uphill and down with misfit shoes, all full of holes. I’m not sure exactly when it started but we are smack in the middle of a period that for lack of a better description is making us soft, figuratively and literally. No red ink in grading papers, graduating classes without class rankings, no games of “tag” allowed in schools, sports’ team tryouts without cuts, equal playing time for all participants, no scorekeeping, everyone wins, there are no losers, and the list goes on and on. Life is full of moments of competition, where there are winners and losers. Granted, I myself don’t believe it is this black and white. Winning is not merely defined by a score, and having a losing score doesn’t necessarily equate to a complete failure. That said though, doesn’t mean “we” as a society should move to an extreme where we eliminate all competition to protect the feelings and psyche of our children. As a coach, in conversations with other coaches and parents, I have often heard the issue of a child’s confidence being discussed. More specifically the issue was about the preservation of self-confidence. True self-confidence, from my experience, comes from actualization of a task, from an effort that leads to self-efficacy. The key is though, that the task has to be challenging and the effort true. If we alter the task to make it easier, if we tamper with the honest effort as a means to ensure success, then we have in fact undermined the individual’s journey towards self-efficacy, and in turn self-confidence and good self-esteem.

So how are we helping develop strong self-confident adults by removing the red ink from grading papers? Teachers and coaches should by no means belittle or demean a child, however does that mean that it is wrong to be critical? Don’t we learn from mistakes? Isn’t it the responsibility of people with experience to help those of little or less experience by pointing out what they’ve done well, but also to explain what they’ve done wrong or what can be improved upon? Are we all so fragile? The irony is that in an attempt to avoid wrecking self-esteem, we are in reality creating individuals who are lacking in self-confidence, and maybe more importantly competence. We have a responsibility to equip our children with the tools necessary to succeed in the real world. The real world is full of competition so by eliminating competition from our children’s educational environment we are in reality doing them a great disservice.

I believe what we are really trying to produce are insightful, caring individuals, with a sense of social responsibility, but just as importantly a sense of individual responsibility and self-reliance. Personal responsibility seems to be the missing ingredient from our modern society. It is always someone or something else’s fault when things don’t go as planned or expected. Excess bodyweight doesn’t seem to be exempt from this perspective. We make bad food choices and attribute it to work, the kids, being at a party, or a lack of time. We give the same reasons for not dedicating any time or energy to regular exercise. We act as if it is out of our hands and that we have no control over the situation. The attitude is one of helplessness; we imply by our excuses that there is nothing we can do about it. We search for the magic pill, diet, or workout program believing that will power is not a necessary ingredient to achieving our health and fitness goals. In fact marketers of such products and programs try to make us believe that will power is not or doesn’t have to be a part of the equation. They do this to make us feel better about our lack of will power. This message in my opinion is dishonest and is no different from the infomercial that promotes a get rich quick scheme that’s so easy anyone can do it. Anything that’s worth anything, that has true value, and that stands the test of time takes hard work. Most things that come easily, usually aren’t worth very much, and don’t last very long. The bottom line is that when it comes to being in shape it takes hard work. There is no way around will power and personal responsibility.

Recently there was a story in the news about Chris Coleson. Chris had been struggling to lose weight for many years. He went on a self-created “McDonald’s” diet and lost 80 lbs. in about six months. Most of the reaction to this story was negative. The attention was on how unhealthy a diet this was both because of the food choice and the lack of total calories. Many people saw it as a stunt for self-promotion. Yes, McDonald’s is not a good choice, and yes 1400 calories is too low of a caloric intake for a man over 280 lbs. who is not being supervised by a medical professional. However, I think we are missing the real point and value in this story. Chris had hit rock bottom and decided to take control over his life and body. He decided to take some personal responsibility for what he put into his mouth. He demonstrated some self-control or will power.

Many would agree that hard work, discipline, self-control, self-restraint, and commitment are important in achieving success in school, business, and relationships; why should health and fitness be any different? It should not and is not. Your success in achieving the body you want and deserve starts and ends with you, and your willingness to take personal responsibility in your road to success. Life is full of choices. Much of what we get is a result of what we choose. If you’re on your way, keep up the good work. If you haven’t started yet, start now. It’s not easy, but you can do it. Making the choice to take action is the first step.

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