Before he became an iconic fitness and health expert known as the “Godfather of Fitness,” Francois Henri “Jack” LaLanne was a sickly teenager who suffered from so many maladies, he preferred to remain a shut-in in his mother’s basement.
In her despair, LaLanne’s mother finally dragged the despondent 15-year-old to a health seminar run by nutritionist Paul C. Bragg, and because Jack didn’t want to go, they were late and had to sit in the very front row. That presentation, on how proper nutrition and exercise can reverse many physical conditions, filled LaLanne with so much hope and inspiration that later that night he got down on his knees and asked God for two things.
Now, you might think LaLanne prayed to become a model of health, a nationally known fitness expert, engage in outrageous feats of strength or inspire millions to live healthier lives because he went on to do all those things in subsequent decades. But no, his actual two requests were much simpler. They were:
- For the willpower and intestinal fortitude to refrain from eating wrong, lifeless, dead foods when the urge came over him, and,
- For the strength to exercise when he didn’t feel like it.
That’s it. Those two small asks were like two tiny acorns that sprouted massive oak trees. It was from those two behaviors, practiced with discipline that Jack’s personal health transformation took root, grew, and eventually became a global empire.
What I love most about this story is that it reinforces that it’s not the massive end results that start our journey. Often those end results cannot even be seen or imagined at the outset. Instead, it is a specific desire, fueled by small, finite, doable, consistent actions that create powerful transformations.
Usually those small actions are very simple. LaLanne didn’t bother to measure his portions, break down the nutrition profile of each dish he ate or calculate which exercises provided the most efficient calorie burn. Until he established regular, positive health habits, that level of granularity would likely have caused overwhelm and greatly increased the likelihood of him abandoning the entire project.
That’s my other favorite message in this story. When pursuing goals, people tend to look for shortcuts or distract themselves with minutiae rather than focus on the clear, basic tasks they should be doing on a daily basis. It might take some effort to ignore the urge to complicate your life, but it’s well worth it if you desire to achieve change.
Confucius said “Life is really simple but we insist on making it complicated.” He also said, “It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”
Barbara Wayman, APR