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FITNESS | KATHY SMITH

Don't Just Work Out; Work on Higher Goal

April 13, 1998|KATHY SMITH

Laurine was getting bored with the workout she'd been doing diligently for a year or so. It wasn't so much that she minded the 30-minute routine, given the immense benefits she'd experienced--lower body weight, improved musculature, more energy, higher self-esteem. It was that she felt ready to take her performance to the next level. "How do I do that?" she asked.

This is a question people often pose to me. I always answer the same way: Find something that puts the twinkle back in your eye and sparks a fire beneath your rear. Something that challenges you.

Something you've never done before.

That something can be relatively simple. But whatever it is, it must demand of you a higher level of devotion than you've been used to.

Why? Because setting a firm goal to do something that challenges you--for example, competing in next year's L.A. Marathon--automatically changes the way you view your workouts, if not the workouts themselves. Instead of just exercising every day as an obligation, working toward a larger goal can reawaken your passion for not only the work but also for other areas of your life.

Better still, once you've attained your goal, you'll likely want to take on new challenges. That's because what changed most of all in the process was you. Your accomplishment forced you to expand both how you think of yourself and the way you look at the world.

I discovered this phenomenon for myself about 15 years ago, when my job as the host of a television show required me to jump out of an airplane for the first time. It was a life-changing experience.

The weeks of preparation and training were both exciting and nerve-racking as I anticipated the actual event. Then, hearing the jump coach yell, 'One, two, three, go," I felt as terrified as I've ever been. But once I jumped, beginning a 5,000-foot free fall, the experience didn't last nearly long enough. Floating to earth, chute safely opened, I seemed to be looking at the world with fresh eyes, seeing it as though for the first time. And I knew instantly that I would never again look at anything the same way. Including myself.

Because of my obligations as a mother, wife and business partner, I haven't done anything as dangerous as that since. But I have gone on several exotic excursions, including some that were organized as a way of getting people to recognize and confront the constraints they impose on themselves, constraints that keep them from enjoying life to its fullest. On these trips, I've watched middle-aged and elderly women gripped by fear as they stared at the side of the mountain down which they were asked to rappel. And I've seen a brilliant light replace the fear as they did so successfully. When they reached the ground, they were transformed.

What these women abandoned was "I can't"--the same attitude that some flying insects exhibit after they've been enclosed in a glass jar for a while. You remove the lid from the jar, but they'll continue to stay inside.

So it is with people. Over time we tell ourselves "I can't do that" or "That's not me" so often that these words become self-fulfilling. Something as simple as a short haircut can be an emotionally traumatic experience for a woman who's had long hair for years and years, and now feels that she's defined by it.

Think of actors and how often they change their physical appearance, even in private life. While you can argue that they do so because they want to remain fresh and interesting in the public eye, I think it's because their job forces them to be different people on screen, which makes them more willing to explore their own limits off the screen.

Very often, the lines between what we are and aren't capable of doing have been self-imposed. It's those lines that the challenge of doing something you've never done before is intended to expose. The activity doesn't have to be skydiving or even a marathon. There are a wealth of activities that can serve your need: 5K and 10K walks and runs to raise funds for charities; adventure vacations; white-water kayak and raft trips; wilderness expeditions; rock climbing, whether real or simulated; etc. All you have to do is use your imagination.

As for Laurine, she's begun in earnest to train for a 75-mile walk, from Santa Barbara to Malibu, that will take place Oct. 23-25, sponsored by Avon to raise funds for breast cancer research. It's going to take great devotion to get herself in shape, both mentally and physically, for such an arduous activity. It's going to be an incredible, life-changing experience. In fact, it already has. I can see that fire in her eyes.

Copyright 1998 by Kathy Smith

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Kathy Smith's fitness column appears weekly in Health. Reader questions are welcome and can be sent to Kathy Smith, Health, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053. If your question is selected, you will receive a free copy of her book "Getting Better All the Time." Please include your name, address and a daytime phone number with your question.

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