Habits can be hard to break.
Habits are great things, right?
They keep you focused, provide regularity to our days and weeks. Healthy habits, especially, form the foundation of rich, fulfilling, and - well, um - healthy life.
Here's my question to you. When do "healthy" habits tip over into the realm of harmful, self-destructive acts? Even if the actual activities themselves that comprise our habits are generally considered "good" or "healthy"?
Okay, enough vagaries. Let's call a spade a spade, here. I'm talking specifically about exercise and diet. Full disclosure: I'm not a dietician or nutritionist. I know just enough about food chemistry and nutrition theory to be dangerous, despite my subject matter expertise in mammalian biology. In fact, I would argue that I don't know what diet and exercise plan is healthy for me, even though I could (probably) sketch out the Krebs cycle for you.
Why is this coming up for me now?
One: the seasons are changing. I'm going from cozy winter (okay, okay, "California winter"!) activities (read: sitting in a recliner by the fire under a blanket) to warmer weather pursuits like running, swimming, cycling, hiking, etc. You get the picture.
Two: As I shake-off the winter blues, I'm starting to realize the toll those sedentary months (okay, okay: weeks!) have taken on my body.
And, finally, three: I, once again, have set an ambitious triathlon race schedule for myself this year even though the thought of training makes me nauseous.
You may be asking yourself, how does this tie back to the concept of "habits". Here it is: it never occurred to me to check-in with myself around whether or not I wanted to train and race this year. Or whether it's a healthy thing for me. It's a habit. A foregone conclusion.
I've raced for the past 13 years. Of course I'll be racing this year! I'm a triathlete. That's what we do, right? I mean, surely, running, swimming, biking, weight training: all these are good for the body, right? Yes and no. They are healthy in doses, volume, and intensities that are appropriate for a given person. They were healthy for me when they served my interests and fueled my growth; when I had passion for the triathlon lifestyle and training. Without realizing it, I'd punched that ticket this year assuming that my passion for the sport - and all that it requires of a person - would still be the same. Even though I'm not the same. Even though my journey has shifted dramatically from 13 years ago when I started racing.
Here's where the power of my triathlon habit, when not paired with intention and self-awareness, led me away from health and well-being.
Habits wear grooves in our lives. And when those grooves serve us - align with our values, support our growth, fill us with joy and passion - no need to change direction. But when those grooves lead inexorably down the road of "have to", "must", "should", those habits can pull us away from what builds our lives and into a feeling of being "trapped."
As if taking a year off from racing made me less of a triathlete or wiped away all my accomplishments. As if forcing myself to show up every week for intense training when the passion wasn't there was a healthy thing to do for my mind or my body. Spoiler alert: if you've ever tried to go for a 20 mile run without wanting to...wow. Not only are you actually logging the miles, you're also carrying a heavy emotional load of resentment, bitterness, frustration, and self-judgement.It might as well be 100 miles.
This also shows up at work when people say: "that's how we always do things" or "that's not how we do things here". Every heard someone say that? Habitual thinking can often mask underlying concerns around uncertainty, becoming irrelevant, and other fear-based thinking.
Here’s my invitation to you:
Examine things in your life (or work) that you may have done for years. How do you feel when you think about these habits? Do these things still serve you?
If yes, how can they serve you even more? How can you further enrich and deepen that experience? A workshop? A new technique? New technology?
If not, how would you like to spend that time instead? Where else would you like to put that energy? What would serve you more at this time in your life.
I asked myself these - admittedly tough - questions around triathlon. Could I walk away from that habit? Could my ego survive being separated from something that I've identified with for so many years? Could I still have pride in myself?
The short answer to all those questions is: yes. I can and I need to in order to focus on my health. I've made the decision to listen to my body and mind, and step back from that habit for the foreseeable future. I don't know how long I'll stay away from actively racing; I'm coaching a few triathletes which I'm really enjoying.
I've made the commitment to myself not to re-enter training until I feel that surge of passion around the sport again. Anything less than that is a self-destructive habit for me.
And, I deserve more than that. So do you!