A few years ago, I was lucky to come across Chris Crowley’s book Younger Next Year. The original book eventually morphed into several sequels, including one focused on women’s health, but the point of all of them was the same: If we want to live longer and feel better, we need to get into better physical shape. Since 2007, the year the book was published, most of us have embraced the truth of this, albeit reluctantly, but I need constant reminders. One of my favorite Crowley truisms is our need for a kedge to keep us moving forward.
By original definition, a kedge was an anchor set out in the distance and then used to haul an attached boat up to it. In other words, it was a way to get something from one point to another. Crowley uses the word kedge to describe a big goal we set as a way of moving ourselves to do the work we might not otherwise do but definitely need to. In other words, in physical terms, if we need to start working out, a good kedge might be signing up for a 10K race and having to train for it.
It represents bigger thinking, in a way, a path to something that feels like growth and creativity.
It was from the running arena that I first realized the value of a kedge, but it actually had nothing to do with sport itself. I had spent months training for and then running my first marathon. It was foremost in my mind from August through December, when I finally covered the 26.2 miles. Fitting in the training around my other responsibilities, staying organized, eating well, getting lots of sleep, and maintaining my conditioning were all part of my plan. It didn’t really matter whether it was a marathon or a fun run. Having the plan kept me at my best. I knew this most clearly when I woke up the day after the race with no plan. I got it then that having that marathon as a kedge added a whole lot to my life that was much harder to muster without one.
Of the many approaches and ideas I’ve implemented since I retired—with a wide range of success and failure—having a good kedge has been one of my most helpful. It’s really just shorthand for having setting a concrete goal, but the vocabulary isn’t what’s important. What has been useful is knowing that having a goal or a plan is important no matter how old we are. And it’s so much more than just trying to lose 10 pounds. It’s about achieving something that has a storehouse of added benefits.
Sometimes, in the busyness of my life, I forget the value of having a kedge. I’ll get stuck in the doldrums of one foot in front of the other, and then I find myself stressed or bored or out of touch with what really brings me joy. If I stop and decide to make a good, manageable goal, it helps more than practically anything. It kind of gives me something to shoot for that belongs to me and yet is outside of my little hamster wheel. It represents bigger thinking, in a way, a path to something that feels like growth and creativity.
I also need to remember that my compulsiveness can’t be the driver as I establish kedges for myself. If that happens, I’m likely to set some unrealistic plan, like writing a book in a month or becoming a body builder by the end of summer. It helps to know myself and to know what it really is I’m seeking. If I want to write more regularly, a better kedge is taking a class or arranging to work with a good editor. If a stronger body is more my goal, a good kedge would be to start working with a personal trainer or taking a yoga class. It doesn’t matter what I’m aiming for. The real value is to keep moving and growing. At 66, I’m very conscious of how easy it is to fall into complacency. But I’m also keenly aware of the intoxicating feeling of knowing I’m on a fun road headed to a place I really want to be.