Oct 01, 2010
I was talking yesterday with one of the medical assistants in my cardiology office - he is an amazing athlete and plans to compete in an Ironman Triathlon next year. As more of a weekend warrior myself, I told him how impressed I am that he is able to maintain such a strenuous level of physical activity for so many hours at a time. He thought about it for a second, and then commented, “There are a lot of things you can train your body to do, but in the end it’s really more of a question of what you are willing to do.”
He is absolutely right. The human body is incredibly resilient, and can be pushed to do things that often surprise us. And we forget sometimes that our minds are similarly capable. Think about the all-nighters that you might have pulled in college, or the discipline you required to sit at that piano and practice day after day. You can do so many things - but it’s time to really start thinking about the "will."
Every day we make many decisions that impact our families, our careers, and our sense of purpose. Some of these require sacrifice, others require more of an investment of time and thought. But an increasingly larger number of choices - particularly as we grow older - involve our actual desire to have things go a particular way. Health-related decisions seem to fall into that category. You make a decision every single time you light a cigarette, take your pills on time, go to the gym, have a drink, or eat a bag of chips. You can put the cigarette down. You can go for a walk. You can leave the saltshaker off the table. But will you?
When many of us are confronted by the choices we make - whether by a doctor, family member, or even the mirror - we tend to explain away those decisions by saying that we just couldn’t do it.
“I can’t help myself sometimes.”
“I couldn’t pass it up.”
“I can’t stop.”
But I’m trying to encourage my patients (and remind myself) to approach these decisions differently. Because if you decide that you can’t do something, you have ended the discussion. There is no more debate. There is no possibility for a solution. But try to recognize that you are capable of doing much more than you realize. Refocus the question towards what you want. Because if you decide that you want to do something, or want to make a change in your life, it puts you in charge - not the problem or the decision in question. And once you realize that you want to do something - that you have the will to face a particular challenge - you now need to think about how you can do it. And the reassuring part is that there are a lot of people who want to help you figure out that part.
Thanks for joining the conversation!