Being active & busy has been part of my identity since childhood. It’s part of my DNA — both my Mum and Granny have & had absolutely zero ability to sit still. Even when my granny was 90 years old & struggling to swallow anything, surviving primarily on Gu chocolate pots & soup (she was an absolute trooper & wonderful woman, never once complaining of the monotony of her diet), you’d still find her rushing about the house trying to find anything at all to do to keep busy, laying tables, ironing already ironed clothes, baking, doing crosswords, always desperate to find something to keep occupied. As a family, we don’t do sitting still very well. On the rare occasions where we sit down to a long lunch, it’s inevitably followed by some kind of activity — a walk, a bike ride, a game in the garden. I resented this as a child, pining for the kind of family which sat and watched films together & could happily do nothing for a day — ‘why do we always have to be dooooing something, can’t we just sit & be & eat quality street like other families?’ I’d whine. As I’ve got older, however, despite desperately trying not to, I have indeed morphed into a hybrid of my Mum & Granny — unlike for many, the idea of sitting around at home watching Netflix all day fills me with dread/claustrophobia/cabin fever which I’d do anything to escape. This desire to be perpetually busy, mixed with sprinklings of childhood ‘you can only do your best’ (which is, of course, an excellent saying to live by), has resulted in me having very minimal ability to do things by half or to sit still.
If I’m perfectly honest, these are traits of mine which I’m mighty proud of. I would never in a million years want to be any other way — they’re the fire which fuelled marathon training, climbing mountains in dodgy trainers, yoga teacher training alongside a full time (demanding…) job, stupidly intense university degrees followed by stupidly intense jobs, early morning workouts, late night client (zzz..) dinners, hungover sprint training & running 15 miles on a sore leg which resulted in not being able to walk properly for 2 weeks (not quite so clever). However, the problem with being defined by activity & busy-ness is that when I’m forced to stop for a little while, to take it easy, to relax, rest & recoup, I don’t really know how to do it or what to do to the incessant ‘do something, do something, you’re wasting time, you’re wasting a day’ voice in my head. A month or so ago, during a trip to Peru, being a prime example.
Within the space of two days I went from scaling the heights of Huayna Picchu, pretty much embodying superwoman (at least in my mind), completing the ‘savage’ (the tour guide’s word not mine) 75km Salkantay trek at 3500m; to struggling to get out of bed, unable to eat anything apart from yoghurt off a teaspoon & getting out of breath walking up one flight of stairs to my fellow sickmates apartment. Wisdom Tooth. Infection. Emergency Dentist. Emergency Extraction (whilst playing my yoga playlist out of my phone in an attempt to stay calm). Minimal Anaesthetic (ouch). Six Stitches (ouch again). Antibiotics. Hamster Face. Horribly Strong Anti-Inflammatories. Bed. Lots of Bed.
On any normal week this wouldn’t have been too bad, as boring & claustrophobic as I’d feel, a couple of days of podcasts, reading & perhaps the odd film (preference for some kind of educational tilt) would have been just about ok, after all everything happens for a reason, right — you just have to wait to see what that reason is, but 1) being in Peru 2) being at 3500m (slows down healing dunnit) 3) Friday marking the start of our fitness weekend (aka Lucys opportunity to shine/break her body) made the whole scenario less than ideal. Despite desperate attempts to get the dentist to agree to me joining the rest of the group for the weekend, I ended up having to stay in Cusco whilst the rest of the clan headed off hiking multi-coloured mountains, jumping over streams, doing burpees on mountain tops & eating Guinea Pig (less enticing). Now, I don’t know whether it was having had some headspace away from frenetic London life, or the Reiki, or the Yoga or 1000s of mg of Ibuprofen I was popping everyday but rather than internally ruminating with the idea that I was missing out & feeling left out, which would be my usual POA, I had a bit of a dig around to try to work out what all those feelings were actually about. What I came to see through my digging, was that the constant desire to push forward, both physically & in the number of things I like to squeeze into my diary was actually likely a symptom of inherently believing that my identity is wrapped up in 1) how many things I can tick off a list in a week & 2) my physical fitness & strength somehow making me a superior human.
Perhaps I’m assuming too much but I feel that this could be a symptom of our society as a whole, favouring trying hard over trying easy. Our work culture favours those who can work inhumane numbers of hours despite it being proven to be less effective. There are thousands of insane physical challenges popping up all over the place to push people to their physical limits & these are no longer just for the ultra fit — look at how quickly Tough Mudder has grown in popularity with us lay-people. We are constantly pushing people to get out of their comfort zones (assuming that everyones comfort zone is sitting on the sofa eating Dairy Milk) as if sitting and just being somehow makes you less of a human. I’m not saying that it’s bad to push, or bad to work hard or want to move forward in life — I just wonder whether perhaps we have gone a little too far & that, for a lot of people I know, moving outside of a comfort zone is actually taking a step back from pushing for a while rather than pushing harder. That there is probably a middle ground somewhere which we’ve perhaps forgotten in our obsession to move forward & achieve. As an experiment, I decided to see what would happen if, rather than rushing back as quick as humanly possible to all my usual activities, I ‘tried easy’ for a few weeks. Not setting an alarm & not jumping out of bed as soon as I wake up. Taking a cab into town rather than walking in the rain. Turning up on time for a meeting rather than 5 mins early. Not working out. Not feeling any guilt if I don’t get my 5 a day one day. Maybe doing a less than complete job on a presentation. Taking the slightly easier option rather than always opting for the most intense one. Sounds easy, but for me, a lot of this is more challenging than marathon training or doing that one extra burpee or waking up at 5am to get to work. This is my stretch zone. My ‘growth zone’. It might not be the same as what society would have us to believe is a stretch zone but for me & (on the premise that we are all much more similar than we’d like to believe) probably a number of others too, this is a real challenge. So, own your stretch zone, & if you are like me, why not ‘try easy’ for a little while & see how you feel. For me, I’m definitely not going to be Netflix-ing all day any time soon but I may well soon be able to sit & be & eat quality street for at least an hour and actually enjoy it.
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