I was thinking about the concept of impermanence while running up a long, hilly country road the day after the heat wave broke in July. I noticed how more challenging the hills seemed compared to a few years ago. I couldn’t get up the bigger hills without taking walking breaks. It was my first time out on these hills this year and I felt it – a reminder that nothing is permanent. Unfortunately, the gains we make when we train are temporary. We cannot bank exercise. To maintain a desired level of fitness, we first have to achieve it. Then comes the real work, the ongoing effort.
Permanence, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is “the state or quality of lasting or remaining unchanged indefinitely.” We can become stronger, faster or leaner, but any physiological improvements are temporary unless we persist, as well as overcome natural adaptation. We must change our exercise routine in order to continue progressing. There are many factors at play – some within our control and some beyond our control – and we need to figure out how to best address them. For example, we age. That’s a fact we can’t deny. If we want to continue running on hills as we age, we may have to devise new ways to train. The methods that worked for us when we were younger may not work now. We can strive to maintain our physical and mental capabilities over time by applying different strategies, or we can modify our goals and expectations.
Nineteenth century French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr wrote, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose,” which means, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” That pessimistic view is shared by those who feel that no matter what changes they or others implement, nothing will really improve. I disagree with this negative mindset. A positive attitude and determination are two ingredients for success. When I stand at the foot of a steep hill and look up into the distance, I can choose to tell myself it’s too hard to get up that hill, or I can tell myself to try my best. If, at that moment, I’m not well-prepared because I haven’t run up the hills consistently for one reason or another (life gets in the way, after all), I take it one step at a time, running when I can and walking when my quads burn or my lungs hurt. The hill is a metaphor. Whatever physical challenges we set for ourselves, mental and physical preparation and flexibility each play a role. Don’t consider it a failure when faced with something you find difficult. Enjoy the beauty and opportunity of the challenge.
The late motivational speaker/author Zig Zigler had a lot to say about the impact of one’s attitude on success. His well-known quotes include, “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude,” and “You were born to win, but to be a winner, you must plan to win, prepare to win, and expect to win.” Consider it a personal victory if you haven’t exercised in years and you now work out a few times per week. Or, maybe, you can now swim a few laps or walk around the block without getting out of breath. I’d call those wins. Individual aspirations vary. What matters is your readiness to try even if circumstances require you to take a different approach or alter your goal.
We cannot move mountains, but we can transcend those difficult hills that we face – whatever they may be. Whatever we did to stay fit or to achieve a fitness goal at other times in our lives may not work now. If you’re finding it harder to stay fit, to maintain your strength, to keep off unwanted fat, to build muscle or simply to move with ease, it’s time to rethink strategies. Nothing is constant. Our bodies change as we transition through the stages of life. We encounter hills and valleys, both literal and figurative. If we believe in ourselves and recognize our potential, we rise to the level of our expectations. When we intentionally shift our perception, we accept impermanence as a welcome challenge rather than a threat. I went running on those hills a week later. I persisted and I did a lot better. And I’ll do even better next time. When our perspective changes, challenges no longer seem insurmountable, and the ones we conquer leave us with the sweet smell of victory.