Occasionally I hear stories about people who have done amazing things, often late in life. Take, for instance, Ida Keeling. At 95 years old, she set a world record by running 60 metres in 29.86 seconds. Ida took up running when she was 67, and she says, “I feel younger now than when I was in my 30s and 40s and had all those problems. Then I was aged!”. Or how about Fauja Sing? Fauja is 101 and in 2003 he ran the Toronto marathon in 5 hours 40 minutes. He began running at the age of 63.
People like Ida and Fauja inspire us, but we tend to think they are somehow different from “ordinary” people like us. After all, we know the statistics for us ordinary people- over 90% of new year resolutions (mostly about physical or emotional health) are broken within a year. With odds like that, why bother? Only super people like Ida and Fauja have a chance. They must have some kind of better resources- perhaps they are innately superior, or have more willpower, or better health to start with, or more support than we have. I want to turn that logic on its head and prove that ANYONE can be a super person, with nothing more than the resources we have now. But first, a story:
Once upon a time, a philosopher named Zeno of Elea (ca. 490–430 BC) presented a paradox that seems to suggest that change is impossible. He used the example of an arrow moving to a target. For motion to occur, the arrow must change the position which it occupies. Yet if you break the flight path down, in any one infinitely small instant of time, the arrow is motionless (think of a photo). In other words, at every individual instant of time there is no change occurring. If the arrow is unchanged at every instant, and time is entirely composed of instants, then change is impossible.
Zeno’s logic seems irrefutable, and yet we also know that change can happen, because we have seen an arrow move. In fact, we see things move so often that we dismiss the mental logic of the paradox. This is called cognitive dissonance- a situation where we have evidence of two seemingly contradictory things and we must choose one. Now let’s look at the issue of new years resolutions and life changes. In this instance, what we usually see are the snapshots in time. We see a resolution being broken and we call it failure.
But that is like seeing the arrow at one instant in Zeno’s paradox and therefore agreeing that change cannot happen. In fact, I believe that many more people achieve success than the statistics show. For instance, it is estimated that a smoker will take five years and seven attempts to quit smoking before reaching success. That could have been recorded as a failed resolution six times over, and yet ultimately it was not a fail at all. In addition, during that five years, we do not know what other amazing healthy habits the smoker may have adopted.
And why should smoking be different than any other healthy habit? It took me many tries over many years to learn how to take off my excess weight and try to keep it off. Each time I lost and gained again it could have been counted as a failure, but each time I lost weight, I also learned other things about living a healthy lifestyle. If I had succeeded the first time, I would have been an unhealthy slim person. I would not have been spurred on to widen my range of knowledge, so really, each attempt was a step toward an ultimate success.
So, our logical mistake when we see people like Ida and Fauja, is to be in awe of them for what they are, thinking they are different from us. Our first thought is then “Oh I could never do that!”. Indeed, we should be in awe of them for what they have done- it is rare. But they likely had many fails along the way. Once you realize that extraordinary people are just ordinary people who kept on making the same resolutions again and again, you realize that it is possible for any individual to begin to change their health at any age. So, super person in disguise, challenge on!
p. s. Don’t you just want to hook up Ida and Fauja?