As a four-time Olympic athlete and medallist in rowing, upon my retirement I wondered how I would manage the transition to becoming a regular human. How would I ever find contentment in being a normal, healthy, fit adult? Normal body fat for an elite athlete is 12 per cent, a huge lung capacity, and for me, the ability to compete with men of the same weight toe-to-toe. How would "good enough" ever become a positive fitness philosophy?
And yet, 21 years after standing on my last Olympic podium, I am a fit and healthy adult. I have finally found the magical formula to being truly healthy. Are you ready for it? Here it is: self–love. Yes, that is right, self-love. Knowing yourself and being at peace with who you are is absolutely the secret ingredient in a healthy life and a healthy fitness plan.
I never felt good enough, fit enough. I simply didn't feel "enough."
When I was at the top of my game as a world rowing champion, I thrived on the pressure of thrice daily competitive practices of pushing myself to exhaustion or being so tired when I went to bed that I didn't remember falling asleep. I spent a minimum of six hours a day training to become the best in the world, and we were always striving, striving to be better, to be stronger, to be mentally tougher. This is how you make world champions, but it does not bode well as a lifelong fitness and healthy living strategy. Essentially, you can never be content with your performance as an athlete, because the whole point is to get even better. It's not enough to be fourth — you are aiming for a medal. Once you have that medal, you are aiming to step on the top podium.
This philosophy of "more" tends to leak out into your life. It's wasn't enough to be strong and lean, I wanted to be leaner and more feminine. It wasn't enough to be in good shape, I needed to run a marathon. I didn't just want to write a book, I wanted to write a best seller. And more than anything else, I wanted to be the perfect parent, because I loved my little ones so much it terrified me that I would mess them up. Trying so hard to be this good backfired — and in the years after my competitive career ended, I spiralled into pit of perfectionism and, eventually, depression. I never felt good enough, fit enough. I simply didn't feel "enough." My mistakes accosted me at every turn like neon signs shouting FAILURE.
I took my winning Olympic attitude to everything I did until I couldn't. One day I just couldn't cope with the relentless drive of more, more, more. I just wanted to be enough.
The journey to being enough was a long and difficult one. In the end, I learned I had always been enough. I had been enough without the medals, without the awards, without a single person telling me that I was their hero. I was enough because it was my birthright — as it is yours. The first time we hold a little baby in our arms, would we ever think that that beautiful little being is not enough? Of course not, and yet this is the damning judgement we put on ourselves again and again and again.
When I decided I was enough, everything changed including my health and fitness philosophy. Now I choose activities based on how much joy they bring to my life. I love walking my dogs, I love swimming in open water, and I feel like so tough when I am lifting in the gym. When I ride my bike, I feel like a kid, so I climb mountains and race down quiet roads — I find myself laughing out loud for the fun of it. I have a baby belly and back fat, but I love my body more than I did 20 years ago. I look at my legs and think how grateful I am that they are strong — and remember how many adventures they have carried me through.
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I am no longer interested in beating myself. If I can't get to my planned activity today, there is tomorrow. I try to do yoga and meditate every day, but in reality, I make it four times a week. I know that life is just too short to keep playing that track of self-criticism and self-loathing. When your mindset changes from not good enough to "Hey, I am doing pretty good!" it gives you the motivation to keep going, to challenge yourself with a new activity, to congratulate yourself for meditating once this week rather than being defeated that you didn't do it every day.
I didn't become healthy by following the perfect fitness program or the most popular eating regime. I became truly healthy when I learned the secret to health and happiness — self-love. A balanced eating plan, a joy-centred fitness program and a healthy, happy fit life followed.
What's your magical formula to healthy living? I would love to hear from you! Tweet me.
You can read more from Silken Laumann on her website.
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