May 26, 2024
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Tortoise or Hare?

There is a famous Aesop’s Fable about a hare that tells anyone that will listen about his great running aptitude and speed. A tortoise, upon hearing the boastful hare talk endlessly about his ability, decides to challenge the hare to a race. The hare laughs and accepts the challenge. Within minutes after the start of the race, the hare finds himself so far ahead of the tortoise that he could not even see the tortoise behind him. Realizing that he will not have to put in any real effort to win this race, the hare decides to take advantage of his lead and grab a quick nap before completing his run. Meanwhile, the tortoise continues to move along at his slow but steady pace, heading for the end of the race. Just as the tortoise approaches the finish line, the hare wakes up from his longer-than-expected rest, and, realizing what has happened, dashes off to catch up and overtake the tortoise, but he is unable to reach him before the tortoise crosses the finish line. The tortoise is declared the winner of the race, much to the joy of all the other animals in the woods. Everyone loves the underdog! The story of the tortoise and the hare is an ancient tale, often told to teach children a moral lesson: “Slow and steady wins the race.”

In many children’s and adult stories there are the good characters, the heroes, and the bad guys, the villains. In real life, of course, people are much more complex, and very few people are all good or all bad; most people are not one-dimensional. If we were to replace the main characters in this Aesop’s Fable with modern-day people, the outcome of the story and hence the lesson might be quite different.

The roles of the hare and the tortoise could be played by several men or women. You may see some hare-like qualities in others or even in yourself. Many people who are capable, ambitious, willing to take risks and impulsive often procrastinate and then stress to get a job done. Some hare-like qualities may be innate. You may have a student in your life—or you may actually have been the student yourself—who stayed up all night before a big exam because despite sincere plans to study for the test in advance, it somehow just didn’t happen. You stay at work late to finish a presentation that you need to present the next day. You have an article that you have been thinking about, but you wait until the last possible moment to write it and send it into the editor of the local Jewish paper the day it is due after midnight! You’re the woman who cooks for Shabbos on Friday
afternoon and then has to light candles in the 18 minutes. You function best under the maximum pressure. You’re fast, so you know you can get it done, but every now and then you don’t make it to the finish line in time.

Then there are the tortoises. If you are a tortoise, then you are a planner; you make lists and check items off as you get them done. You started researching and writing your term paper for school as soon as the teacher assigned it. You cook for Yom Tov weeks in advance and freeze the food. You have a schedule and you keep to it. Your table is set for Shabbos hours before Shabbos arrives. You hate feeling pressure due to time constraints and you arrange your life in an organized manner so that you don’t need to feel rushed. You usually arrive at the finish line way ahead of time, but you may be missing out on doing something spontaneously, or otherwise deprive yourself of something you might enjoy because of your desire to keep to your schedule.

There is, of course, no “right” or “wrong” approach here; being a hare is not better or worse than being a tortoise, and some people exhibit characteristics of both, depending upon circumstances. In my practice, I coach both hares and tortoises as well as people who have both qualities. If you decide that you would like to make some changes in your lifestyle in order to support your overall health, it is important to know yourself and to recognize whether you are more of a hare or more of a tortoise. If you are more of a hare and you decide to lose weight, a very restricted diet program may work for you, one where you are motivated by rapid weight loss. You need to see results quickly. If you are more of a tortoise, on the other hand, you might find the calorie and food restrictions to be too intense and not sustainable. A slower approach to weight loss is therefore a better option, one that allows all food groups and may start by cutting back on added sugar and soda. We have all seen friends and family members achieve success with a particular program and we therefore decide to try the same program for ourselves—but not only are we sometimes unsuccessful, we hate it and then feel bad about ourselves. Not every program is right for every person.

The same is true about exercise. Some people love to move quickly—running, spinning, taking an intense aerobic class; the feeling of a rapid heartbeat accompanied by sweat and shortness of breath is an endorphin high that they seek. And yet for others, the same experience would be torturous. For them, regular walks in the park, pleasant bike rides and yoga classes are the kinds exercise that they find appealing.

With the arrival of spring (finally!), the weather is beautiful outside. Summer is around the corner and you may be thinking about how you can improve your overall health. Before you embark on any health journey, assess yourself honestly, with no judgment. Make decisions based on your desire to be a hare or a tortoise and find the program that best suits you. Whatever your decision, with the right support you will reach your goals and cross the finish line!

By Beth Taubes, RN

 Beth Taubes, RN, OCN, CBCN, CHC, CYT, is the owner of Wellness Motivations LLC. She motivates clients of all backgrounds, ages and health conditions to engage in improved self-care through nutritional counseling, fitness training, yoga practice and stress-reduction techniques. Sign up for the “count up to Shavuos challenge.” Gift Certificates available. Beth can be reached at [email protected] or wellnessmotivationsbt.com.

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