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Achieving a healthy lifestyle begins with an aspiration

I closed off my February column with a commitment to share some thoughts about how I keep myself motivated to exercise and eat right while dealing with the rigors of the trucking lifestyle. I started laughing at myself over this.

I closed off my February column with a commitment to share some thoughts about how I keep myself motivated to exercise and eat right while dealing with the rigors of the trucking lifestyle. I started laughing at myself over this.

After all, I’m a truck driver, not some sort of motivational guru. There is no sugarcoating the fact that it is as hard as hell to put in all the hours we put in as professional drivers and still find the time to exercise and prepare healthy meals. The availability of time, or lack of it, is most often cited by drivers as the reason we don’t take better care of ourselves. I don’t disagree with that statement at all. It’s a fact.

The irony is that successful professional drivers possess the personal traits required to create the time in their lives to make that lifestyle change. Professional drivers are self starters, they have the ability to plan and organize, they have the ability to solve problems as they arise, they are able to roll with the punches, they are patient, they are tenacious, and they possess a high level of commitment.

I can share three things with you that I have learned since I smoked my last cigarette in the fall of 2000 and kicked off my quest to improve the quality of my life. These are not mind-blowing ideas or practices. I haven’t developed some sort of revolutionary health plan. To me these three things are just common sense.

• I have maintained an aspiration to make healthy choices and practices a priority in my life;
• I have an ongoing and flexible plan to adopt those healthy choices and practices;
• And I have developed a support network to help me stay focused on those healthy choices and practices.

So, you see I don’t have any big motivational secret or quick fix solution to the health challenges we face every day as professional drivers. In effect, I don’t allow my personal health and well-being to be less important than the freight I handle every day.

When I started, it didn’t look this simple or straightforward to me. It was a messy struggle that started with a deep desire for change.

I often say there is no point trying to make a change in your life if you don’t want to change. It’s why I use the word ‘aspiration’ and not ‘goal’ or ‘objective.’ To aspire to change speaks to an emotional need, a passion, an ambition, a deep desire.

It’s often a significant emotional event you have experienced that triggers the deep desire to make a change in your life. For me it was a noticeable decline in my health between the ages of 38 and 40. I described myself at that time as a train wreck just waiting to happen.

I possessed, and practiced, all the high-risk factors associated with heart disease. I believed then that if I didn’t make a change I’d be lucky to make it to retirement. It was a very emotional time for me. I think it was the first time I had come face to face with my own mortality. So this is where my aspiration to make healthy choices and practices a priority in my life comes from. It is a very powerful source of motivation for me. It’s a place I have left behind and will never go back to.

So when it comes to your health and well-being, what is your greatest aspiration? Forget about how you would accomplish it at the moment, forget about goal setting and planning. Don’t think about having to exercise or quit smoking or change your eating habits. Put those thoughts aside for the moment. Just picture yourself five to 10 years down the road.

How do you picture yourself? What would you have to change in your daily life to meet that aspiration? The answer is different for each one of us. It takes a lot of introspection, a lot of time being brutally honest with yourself to answer those questions. It’s not comfortable for most of us to do. It’s far easier to leave your life on cruise and wait until you run into something.

But having a lifelong aspiration is the ‘Big Idea’ and it won’t resolve all the issues you face in the daily grind of a driver’s life, or any life for that matter.

That’s where devising a flexible plan and developing a support network comes in. This is where you do all the hard work, especially at first. The trick I learned is not to try to do too much, not to set your sights too high. Slow and steady wins the race when it comes to forming new habits. More on this next month.

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2 Comments » for Achieving a healthy lifestyle begins with an aspiration
  1. Mike Smith says:

    Average life expectancy for North American males is 76, but for truck drivers it’s 61. Body/mass index of 30+ is twice as high for truck drivers than the general public.
    Sleeper operations are extremely hard on a driver’s health regardless of how motivated you are. One very possible solution, at least for linehaul freight and flatbed work: eliminate sleeper operations. Use day cabs. Interline shipments using trailer pools, and use day cabs to return drivers to their homes each night where they will get the only meaningful kind of support system that makes sense: family life.
    This demands all sorts of compromises and cooperation among trucking companies but the time has never been better for such an initiative when the trucking industry is facing a massive shortage of drivers. How do they think that they will attract anybody (be they immigrants or other ‘non-traditional’ sources) to this business when new hires are practically assured of an early death compared to the general population?
    And before all the critics get amped up about how such a proposal couldn’t possibly work, consider just how willing you would be to suggest a career in trucking to your child in the industry as it now operates.

  2. Kathy Ayres says:

    Well said Al. I appreciate your candor and professional truck driver perspective and agree that we need more speaking out to further support the healthy driving initiative. Might I add one other necessary trait to success? It is evidenced – and reinforced – by your example. And that is the BELIEF that healthy truck driving is possible. Without a true belief even the best aspirations will be sabotaged. A true belief will create good plans of action which will result in desired aspirations being realized. With poor results, a different action is required, and may often be attempted. What people fail to realize is without a true belief you will continually change an action only to fail again. This is where your support system recommendation will come into play nicely. Even the best may have doubts – or cycles like you have mentioned – that may derail our plans of action. The more real life examples we can share and get out to other drivers will help offer the example, give needed support in knowing there are others out there, and continue to feed the belief that success will be realized. I look forward to next month’s article.

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