For Your Best 2018: An Inspiring Story of Grit, Growth, and the Great Outdoors

     I met Caroline Brady a decade ago. In our thirties, kids the same age, we worked out together in the park with a group of women who made small talk and did push ups under the oaks of Audubon Park in New Orleans. Then Caroline stopped coming. It was a couple of weeks before I realized why.

     “It was stage 3 breast cancer. It was in my lymph nodes so they started chemotherapy right away,” says Caroline.

      After chemo, she underwent months of radiation and multiple surgeries.

      “I was sidelined for a good year.”

      Sidelined? It didn’t look that way to the rest of us. Through physical pain and emotional stress Caroline continued to work out as much as she could.

     “I just tied my bandana on my head and showed up. It felt good to move and to do something that I could before,” she explains. “It made me feel normal. And for that hour I’m not thinking about cancer.”

     Caroline remains cancer free and turned her passion for outdoor exercise into a thriving fitness business. From social worker, to attorney, to real estate agent, and now fitness trainer, Caroline keeps moving forward—something social science researchers might call “a growth mindset.”

     “I like the clientele that gravitates towards this class,” says Caroline. “You might get a little dirty. You’re gonna sweat. You don’t need a fancy-poo outfit. You get a down to earth clientele. You’re there to work hard.”

     According to Angela Duckworth, New York Times best-selling author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, grit is related to how much you can inspire yourself, access your passion, and sustain your motivation.

     Grit is the drive that keeps you focused on a difficult task over a long period of time. Often grit overlaps with resilience, which Duckworth describes as the optimism to push through tough times when others would be knocked down. 

     While grit is related to effort, optimism, and perseverance, Caroline’s success story has another key element—nature. Caroline took her grit outside.

     “Rain or shine. In the summer you sweat and in the winter you might be cold and sometimes you might get wet and that’s what I like about it,” explains Caroline. “There’s something about being outside, breathing fresh air. It just makes me feel so much better.”

     Caroline intuitively knew what research has shown time and again—being in nature is good for your health.

Memory Boost. University of Michigan study found 20% increase in short-term memory just by walking in nature, compared to walking down city streets.

Mental Energy. Suffering mental fatigue? Another study found that people's mental energy and clarity bounced back after just a short time outdoors. In fact, just looking at pictures of nature can give you a boost. (Pictures of city scenes had no effect.)

Be Inspired. Studies have also found that natural beauty can elicit feelings of awe, which is one of the best ways to experience a mental boost and refresh your optimism.

Reduce Stress. Several studies have found that time in the woods reduces the stress hormone cortisol and lowers your heart rate, when compared to subjects studied in various city settings. Just the view of nature outside an office window is associated with lower job stress and overall work satisfaction.

           “You don’t need equipment. You can always find a trail. You’re not limited by space.”

     So if you’re setting new goals, facing a big challenge, focusing on a long term objective —try doing it outside for maximum benefit.

     Grit + Nature = Happy 2018!

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