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‘Keeping it real’-istic about health and fitness

You may dismiss the response as stock jock-speak, an athlete’s way to sidestep the question. It may be heard during a postgame press conference when a reporter asks the star of the game on a team in the middle of a late-season roll about their chances of winning it all.

“We’re just trying to keep it real,” he’ll say. And he’ll say no more about the matter.

While his response may very well be an effort to skirt the question, it doesn’t have to be. His team may have very well made “Keeping it real” - being authentic and rational about success and the season - their mission statement and embrace that phrase as their philosophy.

In an article for WebMD, “Why Realistic Thinking Is Better Than Optimistic Thinking,” Martin Taylor sees realistic thinking as a sort of safe haven between optimistic and pessimistic thinking. He offers that realistic thinking leads to reasonable expectations and less stress - outcomes that can certainly help in your pursuit of optimal health and fitness - as well.

Thinking too optimistically, Taylor warns, creates disappointment when results aren’t immediately up to snuff. Repeated disappointment engenders anxiety.

Realistic thinking, though, mitigates or even eliminates those feelings, a far better situation for your mental and physical health. To illustrate, consider a study published in the July 2020 issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Using what they call “two well-established well-being indicators” and focusing on finances, researchers measured “long-run well-being” annually and for 18 years in more than 1600 Brits judged to be optimists, pessimists, or realists. They found not only did pessimism reduce long-run well-being by 21.8 percent, but also optimism reduced it by 13.5 percent as well.

The second number is actually more noteworthy because unrealistic optimism is pervasive. The aforementioned study cites another that concludes at times over 80 percent of all people are guilty of it and “display an optimism bias.”

More grist for the mill for keeping it real: Multiple studies have also shown “positive outcomes are more pleasing when they are unexpected.” So how can you make sure the lenses through which you view your health and fitness - and the world, really - are clear rather than rose-colored?

That answer is complex - so complex that I would be guilty of unrealistic optimism myself to believe a single column could contain it. But with some help from The Perfect Advise.com, this column can at least clean the smudges from whatever sort of glasses you’re currently wearing by offering these three suggestions:

1. Increase the time between life’s ups and downs and your reaction to them

I love the word “corybantic.” It means wild, frenzied, and I’ve been looking for ways to use it in a column for months.

It’s probably an appropriate word to describe too much of your typical day. And when things get wild and frenzied, whether good or bad, we often react to them in the same way.

If your unrealistic optimism doesn’t pan out, you generally blurt out the opposite. This pessimistic statement can take hold in your mind and corrupt your entire thought process - unless you recognize it as a “mistake,” and then do suggestion number 2.

2. Reflect on mistakes made and root out their causes

My love of quotations has led me to write a few of my own. A sticky note affixed to a cabinet in my writing room contains this one: “Mistakes do not remain mistakes if you remain mindful.”

However astute that observation may be - if it’s astute at all - it’s certainly a Catch-22, for truly mindful people don’t make mistakes. Think about it: You only spill the orange juice early in the morning when your mind is focused on something other than the pouring of the juice and the picking up of the glass.

It’s simple enough, but being totally mindful during all the trivial tasks throughout the day is really an impossibility, something even the most steadfast of monks never attains.

So what’s really meant here is to be sure to heighten your awareness as soon as you make a mistake. Don’t rant about it. Reflect upon it.

And to do so, you need to do suggestion number 3.

3. Practice mindfulness

To help explain mindfulness, The Perfect Advise.com explains what the Buddhists view as its opposite and call monkey mind, when your mind “jumps from one thought to the next with no self-control.” Mindfulness is nothing more than the awareness of monkey mind and the subtle redirection of your thoughts to what’s happening in the here and now.

That redirection allows you to look at any situation rationally and keeps you from picking and choosing and focusing on the facts that will aid and abet your unwarranted optimism or pessimism.