It’s far too easy to come up with reasons not to embark on an outdoor adventure — or even a simple nature hike. The weather’s bad. There are no mountains nearby. The trails are closed.
But there are a host of reasons those barriers shouldn’t stand in our way.
I’ve always wanted to hike the full John Muir Trail — so much so that I made a pact with the co-founder of my last company to do it together. At the time, we were working incredibly hard and knew we needed to unplug. But a few days after we sold our company to Google, I was in the hospital with unexpected chest pains after running a 10K.
My friend went on to complete the hike without me, and I was left inside reeling from the wakeup call I just had. My father had his first heart attack at age 45, and I quickly became a 37-year-old with a newfound determination to change the course of my health.
That life-changing event made it clear to me that it was time to stop waiting around for the perfect moment to get outside and start living a better, healthier life. It was time to get out there and start moving.
While I still haven’t completed the John Muir Trail, I have turned my life around and stopped using the “busy life” excuse for not being as healthy as I know I should be. It’s no longer an excuse I use because it simply can’t be.
Healthy Living and Mountains — They Have More in Common Than You Think
My health scare moved my life in an entirely new direction. In the years following it, I incorporated more exercise and healthy eating into my routine, lost 40 pounds, and ran three marathons. But this journey was only possible because I got off the couch and got outside.
For me, being outdoors is an inspiration. It gives me space to think, and the open air allows my mind to freely go where it needs to. But that doesn’t mean that finding the time to be outside is always easy. Plenty of barriers could’ve derailed my decision to make time for it, like having a massive workload and formerly being part of a workplace that wasn’t built on a mission of healthy living.
Part of health, though, is overcoming personal challenges and obstacles like these. Being outside is a reminder of who we are and reminds us to keep finding the best way to be healthy for ourselves. This is what it means to be health-literate — to constantly learn and work toward progress (not perfection) and to make proactive choices (not passive ones).
There will always be a mountain to climb, just like there will always be ways to become healthier, better versions of ourselves. Both take work, and both couldn’t be more worth it. Follow these steps to identify any barriers standing in your way and break through them to start getting up, getting out, and pursuing a healthier life.
1. Count up.
When I started working toward a healthier life, I wasn’t sure whether I’d be able to maintain it. Instead of taking a cold-turkey approach, I made sure to count up my successes.
For example, if I turned three meetings into outdoor walks one week and five the next, I’d mark that as a huge improvement. Setting small goals and continually raising expectations a little at a time helped me ease into an active lifestyle until it became second nature.
2. Set perfection aside.
There will always be people who can hike farther or run faster. For that reason, comparing one journey to another doesn’t set anyone up for success. Even if I ran slower than normal one day or didn’t get outside as often one week as I had the week before, it’s still far better than having never gotten outside to move at all.
A healthy lifestyle is about progress and persistence. Remember, hikes are completed one step at a time. Planning only accounts for so much. Commit to the process and put in the work to complete the rest.
3. Track the journey.
Before health became my focus, I chose donuts and cookies every day and skipped exercise. I figured I was young and could focus on health later. Now, my priorities are much different.
We should always remind ourselves of the person we used to be and the person we want to be moving forward. Then, when the going gets tough, we can look back on the “before” and see how far we’ve come.
4. See the good.
If days or even months go by without seeing progress, it can be easy to get discouraged. As a remedy, I remind myself that if I’m actively making an effort, I’m not failing. When life gets in the way of progress, I remind myself that I’m improving rather than let negative thoughts spiral out of control.
The way forward is always to keep trying. Health literacy is about constant learning, not perfection. There will always be more mountains to climb or things to learn, so get outside and discover them. You’ll find yourself becoming better and stronger in the process. Who knows — you might even end up hiking that trail you’ve always dreamed of taking on.
Munjal Shah is the co-founder and CEO of Health IQ, a life insurance agency that rewards people with healthy lifestyles, like runners, cyclists, weightlifters, and vegetarians. After working as a technology entrepreneur for the first part of his career, he started Health IQ to improve the health of the world by celebrating those who practice healthy lifestyles.
Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books–written by men–barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.