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“Our outlook—a term I have chosen to describe our unique patterns of thinking, feeling, and interacting with ourselves and with the world—has the potential to influence every facet of our health.” Hilary Tindle, MD, MPH, UP: How Positive Outlook Can Transform Our Health and Aging (Hudson Street, 2013)

Outlook Matters

My Story

We are learning more all the time about the importance of positive attitude on our health and longevity--our life.

I have long believed that my can-do attitude was kindled by my success lifting weights as a young boy—and continued to build as I progressed to high school pentathlon, Olympic lifting, law school, bodybuilding competition, health research, book authoring, columnist, and lifetime trainer. Dr. Hilary Tindle’s book UP reinforces that belief and expands on the relationship between positive outlook and healthy living.

She begins by telling how her experience as a primary care doctor led her to pursue a career studying the “immense barrier to healthy aging.”

Now a cardiologist at the University of Pittsburgh, Tindle says coronary heart disease is almost entirely preventable through lifestyle and simple medications.

The 7 simple steps that she and other doctors recommend are: Don’t smoke, and if you do, quit. Control your blood sugar, your blood cholesterol, and your blood pressure. Exercise on most days of the week. Eat reasonable portions of healthy foods, and maintain a weight that is healthy for your height.

Unfortunately, we refuse to help ourselves. “Shockingly, less than 1 percent of American adults [meet those basic standards for health and longevity],” Tindle tells readers. She adds that only 19% are willing to take even 4 out of the 7 simple steps.

“What was it, I wondered, that incited those few people to adopt and maintain healthy behavior, while the vast majority resisted, even in the face of suffering and early death?"

Her book is aimed at helping many more people overcome self-defeating attitudes and protect their health.  

“A healthier outlook may be like the wind in your sails when it comes to caring for your body—speeding you along on a healthier course,” she writes encouragingly. On the other side of the spectrum, one of her team's earliest published studies found that women with the highest levels of “cynical hostility,” an anger and deep mistrust of other people, were 16 percent more likely to die over eight years of study follow-up.

Dr. Tindle assures readers that outlook is modifiable. We do have some say in how we view the world. “Whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right,” Tindle writes, quoting Henry Ford. She wisely adds, however, that working really hard to achieve what you believe may be the most valuable attribute of all. (Henry Ford would, no doubt, concur.)

The overriding importance of effort was driven home during my time in law school, where the entrance process included a test of legal aptitude. My 55 percentile score brought on a warning from a school counselor that I would have to work really hard to get through law school. A friend scored 95 percentile and was told that he was ideally suited for a career in law. Another friend came out at about 15 percent and was advised that it would take a miracle to make him a lawyer.

To make a long story short, I graduated second in my class. My hopeless classmate went on to be chosen by colleagues as president of a large metropolitan bar association. The “born lawyer” flunked out and had a successful career in sales. The one thing the test couldn’t measure was how hard we were willing to work.  

I’ll have more to say about my own experience, but first I want to tell you about several key elements of outlook stressed by Dr. Tindle.

Power of Intention

Intention simply means making up your mind to do something. But there’s more to it, according to Dr. Tindle. It means aiming your brain. “Your intention is like the gas in your car, the wind in your sails, or the glycogen in your liver,” she writes. “It fuels your journey.”

To illustrate the incredible power of intention, Tindle points to the robotic arms paralyzed people use to do everyday activities. “Neuroprosthetics are initiated by the quadriplegic or paraplegic’s own brain waves,” she explains. It can take days or weeks to learn to move their artificial limb, but it with practice it can be done.  It works the same way when we make up our mind to move in healthier directions. “Every time you learn something, no matter how small, your brain aims and actually changes,” she tells us. It’s called neuroplasticity, which refers to the process by which brain cells change and make new connections.

Relevance and meaningfulness strengthen your intentions. Tindle illustrates using the case of Joseph, a man who joined one of her research studies to quit smoking.

Joseph had developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and had every reason to quit smoking. Nevertheless, he repeatedly gave in to the urge to smoke despite a strong desire to quit.

“Joseph was on a dangerous track that he either couldn’t or wouldn’t get off of, and we had to help him find another path,” Tindle explains. Cutting to the chase, the program found a rationale that made a “lightbulb go on in Joseph’s mind” and persuade him to quit smoking. “The best way for Joseph to care for his mother was to keep himself healthy, and by far the most effective way to do that was to quit smoking.”

While this is an extreme example, the point has wide application. Simply put, we have to find a reason to change that moves us into action. Do that and aim your brain until the pathway is solidly in place.

“Everything you need is in your head already,” Tindle tells readers. Find a reason to change that “works” and act on it over and over. Burn it into your brain. If quadriplegics can do it, you can too.


Dr. Tindle says her husband, also a physician and researcher, is one of the most optimistic people she knows. She learned from watching his optimism in action.

Walking back from lunch one day, she listened to him describe a new research project. In the course of five minutes he outlined all the necessary steps to implement it. “He had a plan for how to use the momentum gained from each stage to get to the next stage—sort of like artfully bounding one’s way through an obstacle course,” she writes.

A struggling optimist herself, needing to have things totally worked out in advance, she wondered how he could know that each part would work as planned. Here’s what she came to understand. “My husband fully understood that not every step would work out as planned, but he was certain that he could mobilize the resources to figure out a reasonable solution when the time came.”

The light bulb went on for her when she realized that he often viewed his goals as if they had actually happened. “Once I realized the amazing process that was taking shape in his mind, my irritation ceased. He really did see the end result, and he knew he could create it—so much so that he spoke about it as if it already had!”

Whether he knew it or not, he was using a form of guided imagery or visualization.

Arnold Schwarzenegger may be the most widely known proponent of visualization. “Have a vision, break some rules, ignore the naysayers, don’t be afraid to fail,” he wrote in his autobiography, Total Recall (Simon & Schuster, 2012). “What you do is create a vision of who you want to be, and then live into that picture as if it were already true,” Arnold told famous success coach Steve Chandler, author of Crazy Good: A Book of Choices (Maurice Bassett, 2015) and many other books.

In sync with Arnold, Dr. Tindle defines optimism as “the ability to visualize your own bright future as real, and bring it to the present moment.”

Build on Success

Dr. Tindle advises readers to start small by setting realistic goals and then acknowledge and build on your accomplishments. “Acknowledging your success in this way arms you with data to challenge those I can’t notions with concrete, irrefutable evidence that you can.”

She uses her six-year-old daughter’s first tennis lesson to show how this builds confidence and leads to bigger and better things. “Kids need to learn to acknowledge their success at an early age, because it helps them avoid undue frustration and spend their energies pursuing the activities they love,” she writes. “Such pursuits keep us younger as we grow older, regardless of our age.”

Her instructor, a coach of high school teams and a skilled motivator, made a game of trying to get to ten continuous rallies. Only able to get to four or five initially, she kept running off the court in frustration. They had to coax her back to the lesson each time. She was soon able to rally to eight, “but instead of focusing on the thrill of her rapid improvement, she remained fixated on what she perceived as her failure to get to ten.” Insisting that she didn’t like tennis, she declared that she didn’t want to continue.

Having seen this many times before, her coach knew just what to do. He explained that not many people can get to ten right away. With some urging, he persuaded her to keep trying. When she finally made it to nine, but was still pouting, he insured her that she was making good progress. That’s one more than you did before—you can’t be unhappy with nine.

By the end of the lesson, she had passed ten and reached thirteen rallies. “As we all clapped and cheered,” Tindle related, “her coach gave her a high five, and leaned over the net, and told her that she had just learned a really important lesson.

He then asked her what she should remember when she’s trying to do something and can’t quite get there. “Her little face looked up at him and she nodded earnestly as he told her, You need to keep trying.”

That’s a lesson we can all benefit from. “Even if we failed before,” Tindle counsels, “things change, and we must try again and acknowledge every step forward.”

Tackle the “Simple 7” one at a time, acknowledge and celebrate your success, and move on to the next life-giving step. Don’t give up. If you relapse, keep trying. So simple and yet so powerful! You CAN do it.

I won’t burden you with my life story. But I would like to share several experiences where positive outlook kept me on track.

Highs and Lows

Picking up my dad’s barbell as a young boy set the mold for my life. It taught me that working hard to achieve a realistic goal gave me the power to shape the course of my life. I didn’t know it right away, but each success gave me confidence to tackle bigger things. One step led to another and I was soon doing previously unthinkable things. When things didn’t go so well, my earlier successes gave me confidence to keep trying.

I’ve already told about my success in law school. A close friend confided to me that he couldn’t imagine himself taking on law school. I wondered at first whether I was biting off more than I could chew. Without my earlier successes in sports—and encouragement from my father—I might’ve given up when I found myself struggling in the first semester of law school.

Our class started out with about 75 students--and only 14 made passing grades on the first test. I was number 14. I know because grades were posted for the world to see. I was on the cusp of humiliation. I told my dad that I didn’t know if I was going to be able to do the work required in law school. He persuaded me to try it for a while longer. I’m glad I did, because by the third semester I was first in the class. The day I learned that I was at the top of the class was one of the high points of my life; I drove home practically floating on a cloud. The competition was brutal and I was leading the pack.

I completed law school second only to a truly brilliant classmate. He soaked up legal concepts so easily that he rarely found it necessary to take notes in class. On the rare occasions when he wanted to jot something down he would borrow pen and paper from one of us lowly note takers. One thing we had in common was that we both found that law practice wasn’t exactly our cup of tea. Coming from a long line of prominent lawyers, he never lived up to expectations in the practice of law. He was apparently more interested in art and helping down-and-out friends.

I learned this about him near the end of his life when we became good friends. He probably would’ve been happier teaching law.

I found myself in a law firm that wanted me to be a rain maker, when my strength was turning out a first class work product; give me a job and I got it done. I worked my way up to partner, but was never really comfortable in a law firm setting. After ten years, I left to go it alone and have more time to pursue my interest in fitness.

I liked being my own boss, but it was tough sledding for a while. I tried several fitness related ventures but found that sales wasn’t my forte.


 I tried selling Mini Gym isokinetic resistance machines for a while. A Google search shows that my friend Glen Henson is still at the helm of Mini Gym.
Photo by Bill Vollendorf

I always believed that things would work out for Carol and I, but had no clear path mapped out. A call from Lovelace Foundation for Medical Education and Research was the turning point. They asked me to come for testing as part of their program to find the best form of exercise for space-travel. I was preparing to enter the Past 40 Mr. America contest and, while I was there, asked them to measure my body composition. That’s when I learned that my body fat was 2.4 percent—and began a study of leanness and health that continues to this day.

I decided to write a book about what I had learned preparing for the Past 40 Mr. America and Mr. USA contests. Carol and I had no experience writing, publishing, or distributing a book, but we plowed ahead anyway. We thought we could do it. Convinced that I had an important story to tell, we put everything we had into writing Ripped—expecting that the pieces would come together as the project progressed. And they did--with help from a media firm who'd helped us with trial exhibits. They helped us with editing and book design. They came up with the split ripped logo and designed the front and back covers. They also introduced us to a woman at UNM Press who led us to a printing company specializing in books like ours. She also took us through the copyright process.

The worldwide exposure provided by my column in Joe Weider’s Muscle & Fitness magazine was a key factor in distribution.

Ripped was a success beyond our wildest dreams. The orders came flooding in from everywhere. We could hardly believe our eyes. We smiled all the way to the US Post Office and learned about domestic and international book shipping.

We kept turning out books and related products. Amazon found us about 15 years later. We started this website in 1996, which takes us to the present day with 10 books and three DVDs. (Ripped is now in its 12th printing.)

It all began when I co-opted my dad’s barbell and started lifting in my bedroom.

As the world of strength and fitness unfolded before me, I began toying with the idea of a career in fitness. Seemingly impossible at first, the plausibility grew little by little. There were many stops and along the way, but I made it come true.

I never stopped training and learning about the importance of healthy living.

Take Home from Dr. Tindle

Chose your goals well and work hard to make them come true. Positive outlook is a powerful tool to help you along the way. But not everyone wakes up in the morning knowing that everything will come together in the end. Dr. Tindle admits to being a struggling optimist. She says to think of outlook as a muscle that "you can tone and strengthen--by starting out slowly and working your way up."

August 1, 2016

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