The Biggest Health Lessons of 2018
Keep it simple. Consistency is key. Get out of your own way.
Outside's long reads email newsletter features our strongest writing, most ambitious reporting, and award-winning storytelling about the outdoors. Sign up today.
The past year in health and human performance was pretty wild. Des Linden became the first American woman to win the Boston Marathon in more than 30 years. Eliud Kipchoge followed his dazzling sub-two-hour exhibition marathon attempt by setting a new official world record, going 2:01:39 for the distance. Mental health became a more open topic of discussion, in the world at large and also in the world of sports, in no small part thanks to Kevin Love, DeMar DeRozan, Shane Larkin, and a handful of other NBA stars who opened up about their experiences with anxiety, depression, and OCD.
In no particular order, here are the top themes of 2018, along with the essays and articles that explored them.
Mental-Health Battles Are Universal
Mental illness can happen to anyone, including me. At the end of last year, I was blindsided by obsessive-compulsive disorder. The cognitive dissonance and subsequent distress caused by feeling like I was falling apart on the inside, while appearing fine on the outside, was too much to bear, so I wrote about my experience. Doing so—along with therapy, medication, and exercise—was integral to my recovery, as was community and a sense of belonging. I quickly learned that I’m not alone. Many in the health and human performance community are either experiencing or have experienced mental illness. And many have gotten better.
- “When a Stress Expert Battles Mental Illness”
- “Athletes Share Their Mental Health Coping Strategies”
- “Lifting Weights Helps Ease Anxiety and Depression”
- “Motivation Is Overrated”
Consistency Is Key
We saw some breakthrough performances in 2018 (see Linden and Kipchoge), but none happened overnight. They all resulted from years and years of consistency. It turns out that the best performers aren’t consistently great, but they are great at being consistent. They show up day in and day out and put in the work. They train by applying the right amount of stress followed by the right amount of rest and recovery. They repeat this pattern over and over and over again. Consistency compounds.
- “What Lies Behind Every ‘Breakthrough’ Performance”
- “The Equation That Will Make You Better at Everything”
- “The Case for Not Changing a Thing”
- “Shalane Flanagan on How to Achieve Peak Performance”
Keep It Simple
Health and fitness are almost always made more complex than they need to be. Sure, if you are in the top 1 percent, the details are crucial. But for the rest of us, the best programs are often the simplest. Exhibit A: You could summarize the federal government’s 2018 report on health and fitness in just nine words—Move your body often, sometimes hard, every bit counts.
- “The 9-Word Ultimate Fitness Manifesto”
- “Walking Might Be the Best Exercise There Is”
- “8 Rules to Do Everything Better”
Get Out of Your Own Way
The great paradox of peak performance is that it happens as a result of trying really hard and then not trying at all. You’ve got to log the hard efforts with dedication and deep focus. This gets you within striking distance of a breakthrough. But once you’re there, the best thing you can do is to just let go—stop trying to make peak performance happen and let it happen instead. As the famous track and field coach Bud Winter said, “Relax and win.”
- “It’s OK to be Good and Not Great”
- “Want to Perform Better? Play to Win.”
- “The Case for Lowering Your Expectations.”
Thanks for reading the column this year. I look forward to continuing these conversations into 2019. If you have any feedback, questions, or topics you want to see covered, hit me up on Twitter.
Brad Stulberg (@Bstulberg) writes Outside’s Do It Better column and is the author of the bestselling book Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success.