As gym offers and diet subscriptions fill your inbox, there is a kinder way to kick start positive change this year
The space in time carved out by brushing your teeth every day is where many of life’s profound realisations occur. It’s over a week into the New Year and this morning I’m stood at the bathroom sink half asleep from another late bedtime (mastering the knack for good time-keeping did chart somewhere on my New Year goals – which I stayed up until 12am last night to finish. Feeling this groggy is also not helped by polishing off the last of the Christmas chocolates earlier that evening). Now, stood here sleep deprived, over-indulged and with the days of the new year ticking away and it’s New Year, Same Me, the guilt of knowing I should be doing more to lead a healthier life kicks in.
In an attempt to ease the weight of self-pity at this early hour, I searched for a nicer-feeling thought. Something positive to remind myself that I am a good person. My thoughts travelled back to yesterday’s Pilates class. I half-heartedly affirmed “At least I’ve done something active…?”. Like, I stepped ~inside~ a gym bypassing the treadmills and bodybuilders into a side room – where in comparison, I pretty much just lay on a mat moving my feet in the air – “…at least that’s a start?”. But that was quickly eclipsed by another layer of guilt. “I should have put in real effort and opted for a 5K run, or a high intensity, calorie-burning workout to really get my life in order”.
If I really wanted to kick start a better life, why didn’t I do something rigorous and really push myself?
Amidst the grey clouds of guilt and criticism starting to fill my mind, something started to change. A glimmer of sunshine glinting through the clouds, “…Actually, I enjoyed that Pilates session”. It felt good for my body and I was glad I’d made at least one step to get back into a fitness routine this year.
A revelation unfolded as a new thought lead me down a route I hadn’t been before. Why did I think I had to push my body to a physical extreme? Why did the gentler Pilates class feel not good enough as my first step?
It struck me that the harshness of this mentality had me going me going in circles – and was actually a constant distraction from ever getting started. It wasn’t serving me at all, it’s been doing the opposite because I’m stood here still not as fit as I want to be, in fact, I’ve barely tried to even start the journey.
For so long, I’d been psychologically pummelling myself. “You should be doing that. You should be five more steps ahead by now… You’re not doing enough. You should be putting your body through physical torture if you want to get to where you want to be”.
The sentiment of ‘should’ littered every thought. “I should already be really fit and should already have a really healthy daily routine.”
The essence of ‘should’ forces us far out and away from the present moment (which is where every ounce of our power and ability is) and into an imaginary realm of existence of the best versions of ourselves. Just like that imaginary existence in our minds that we propel to when scrolling our Instagram feeds. As we sit there, all normal and real with real-life challenges and imperfections, witnessing seemingly every other human being out there live their best versions of themselves, perfect with it all figured out and defeating all of life’s challenges. An imaginary, NOT REAL, disempowering and action-inhibiting place.
‘Should’ should be eradicated from our vernacular.
That mental back-and-forth was serving as much good as putting my willpower in the ring with Mike Tyson. Any remaining shreds of motivation were left battered and bruised.
The pattern wasn’t working. It was displacing my presence from the moment, and so, defeating all will to invest in anything from the beginning – as the student. Instead, I’d been constantly envisioning where I ‘should’ be by now (predominantly influenced by social media and a lifetime external reinforcement that favours linear progression) as the end product – the master… and then beating myself up on top of it all for not being the student or the master and not having the answers to get out of the rut.
Toothbrush in hand and awareness back in the room, I realise how the harshness of this now outdated thought cycle was just as harsh as the exercise I thought I should be doing.
Yesterday’s Pilates was something different. It was gentle. Through being gentle with myself, I was present and aware. I was in my body. I was actually taking action. Not off in thought, guilt or emotional turmoil envisioning the perfect version of me and then beating myself up for not being that – and then not taking any action because that perfect version was so far away. Also, not pushing my body to its pain or performance limits and counting down the milliseconds until the exercise is over.
Gentleness in thought allows breathing space for something new (like realising how harsh and action-inhibiting I’d been on myself). It allows for being completely in the moment and present in your body – a different kind of fitness. It’s the key to creating sustained change, it gives you permission to proudly take up position at the beginning, as the student, letting go of the judgement or expectation of where you ‘should’ be.