We learn from an early age to always push for more, always be better than you were yesterday, always give your all. I agree with this notion, to an extent, but if we aren’t careful this inertia we create can bring us down.
This year I joined a networking group called Women Belong where each meeting kicks off with a quote that we discuss. This week the quote sparked a wonderful discussion which led to this post.
In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.
Many of us touched on gracefully letting go, I brought up letting go of my tight grip on my fitness, but what stuck with me in the end was what living gently means.
How can living gently get you even further than pushing constantly?
The mentality you hear in the gyms, in bootcamp class, and see plastered throughout Instagram is certainly not gentle. The idea enforced is going all out, never giving up, pushing yourself, being better than yesterday. I agree, to improve your fitness you have to challenge yourself, but what isn’t touted in gyms or bragged about on social media is the other half of the equation; recovery.
Doing gentle walks, yoga, low impact, slow strength training, or complete rest days, allow your body to recover better, and prevent injury through cross training. Intense exercise is a stress on your body, and the appropriate amount is positive, allowing you to grow stronger, however too much causes overtraining and a decline in fitness.
Listening to what your body needs when it comes to exercise is living gently. I used to push, push, push. If I planned on an hour run or a strength training session, I did it unless I was physically injured, and even then I’d at least try to see what I could do. This new mentality has made me tune into what my body needs that day, instead of what I feel I should be doing.
Last month I traveled to visit my cousin and stayed for 10 days with her and her new twins. My flight back to Chicago was to get in around 1:30pm so I figured I could get an at home strength training session in since I hadn’t done any since I was gone.
Between the walk through Atlanta’s huge airport, taking the orange to the blue line once in Chicago and remembering once on the train with my 51 pound suitcase (thanks for not charging me, guy at Southwest baggage check!) that my stop only has stairs, lugging it up to my 3rd floor apartment then walking to the grocery, it was nearly 6pm and I was exhausted.
My body was not going to be receptive to strength training, but what it did need was yoga. I did about 30 minutes on my own and it felt wonderful! Having the “push yourself always!” mindset didn’t serve me that day. The next day, after a full night’s sleep, I did my strength training and looked forward to it, able to challenge my body and not drain it.
Doing better in the gym looks different than doing better with your eating habits, but the idea of living gently still applies. When people incorporate healthier habits – trading in fries for side salads, ditching white bread and pasta for whole grain, cooking at home instead of ordering out, etc. – they feel great, as they should, about the choices they’re making. The part where it can pull them back is when they feel guilt over making not-so-healthy choices.
Maybe you cook at home during the week, but have one of those insane back-to-back-all-over-town kind of days and dinner is take-out. Looking at your life as a whole, this is no big deal, but with an always-do-better mindset you feel like you somehow failed or cheated.
The stress from feeling guilty, like you didn’t do enough, is unhealthy, causing your digestion to slow and digestive metabolism to weaken (psychologyofeating.com). Expecting to do better everyday, then have the inevitable slip in your diet, can cause you to either throw in the towel and order take-out the next night, or become super strict the next day.
Always pushing yourself to do better with what you eat can be a slippery slope that leads to cutting out whole food groups, deeming food “good” or”bad”, and whittling away the number of calories you allow yourself (if cutting from 2,000 to 1,800 a day is good than 1,600 a day must be better).
Living gently in nutrition, much like in fitness, involves listening to what your body needs. This isn’t a, “my body needs another piece of cake!”, rather a, “my stomach is growling, I need more calories”, or, “I’m crashing after my workouts, maybe I need more protein.” Listening to our hunger cues and letting them have more say in how we feed ourselves is pulling back from regimented diets. By doing this you’ll be surprised by how your body thanks you by trusting you’ll give it what it needs, and the results you’re looking for will follow!
In Your Personal Life…
We love to say yes. Yes to helping a friend move, Yes to hosting a gathering, Yes to your kids’ fundraiser, Yes to heading up a volunteer committee. It feels good in the moment, then you look at your week and realize there is zero time for you.
I’m guilty of this for sure! I have gotten better over the last year or so, but it’s taken effort. We want to be helpful and there’s a lot we honestly would love to take on, however piling more and more on our plates spreads us thin, we can’t be everywhere at once and certainly cannot execute how we’d like to when there’s simply too much.
Instead of “re-upping” to things you do every year- hosting the annual fundraiser for your church, manning the table at your kids’ school bake sale, heading a committee where you volunteer – consider how pulling back can benefit both you and these commitments.
Saying No doesn’t mean you aren’t involved anymore, rather it gives you new opportunities to work what’s important into your life in a way that empowers you instead of draining you.
Quick example: My passion organization is Back on My Feet. I started volunteering with them by running with the team closest to me 1-2 times every week. When I moved and started a job that had earlier hours I tried to make it work but simply couldn’t with the timing and logistics. This organization is still highly important to me so I joined their Fundracing Committee which is focused around the Chicago Marathon. We meet once a month from late spring to early fall and anything else I do for the committee is not much time, but it’s up to me when which works for my schedule. I’m still involved, and I am able to easily commit this time instead of jamming it into my days.
Pulling back from all you say Yes to allows you to excel in what you do say Yes to. Plus, it opens up the opportunity you released to someone else and you never know how it could positively impact that person’s life.
How can you pull back this week to propel forward?