Yesterday I laced up my ramshackle trail runners and headed out to the brightly overcast Auckland afternoon for a vigorous walk.
(Because that's what I do with those ultra lightweight running shoes: I walk. I bought them in a fit of aspiration about five years ago, envisioning myself gliding along the trails at Castle Rock State Park in a stylish spandex outfit...and that did actually happen one time, for about twenty minutes - minus the outfit. Since that one special moment, these shoes have been used a lot, but only for hiking, which - for me, at least - is just groovy walking.)
Anyway, yesterday, something strange happened when I went outside.
I got going, stepping fast and pumping my arms in my regular dorky fashion. I walked about a block down Abbey's street, towards the gleaming chestnut horses on the farm, and then I did something that I haven't done in years.
I started running.
Let me be crystal clear. I used to run a lot, as in multiple miles per day. Now, at almost 37 years old, I've got delicate knees and a problematic lower back from years of being a competitive athlete as well as a more forgiving attitude toward exercise. I've fully accepted that walking is my most sustainable jam, and I even kinda like it.
But yesterday, completely unexpectedly, I ran. Once I hit the asphalt (because it's far more forgiving than concrete, you know?), my legs wanted to do more. So I said to myself, "Well, why not?" and I started running. And I kept going, up and down the same street like a pet goldfish in a small bowl.
It only lasted about ten or fifteen minutes. My face eventually turned bright red from exertion, which, amazingly, was still visible underneath the white mask of mineral sunscreen. However. However! I enjoyed moving and sweating and breathing in ways that felt like new. (And super duper bonus points for not breaking my knees or getting hit by a car!)
So. Am I proud of myself for running? Yup, kinda. As Joe Jackson sings in his song Jamie G.: "I think I pulled a muscle / I didn't know I had"...but it was worth it!
Okay then. So, am I going to run today?
Nope. Not even a little bit, as Abbey says. The sky is pouring down buckets of gloriously sideways rain and today I feel like more of an elderly kitty-cat than an outdoorsy warrior.
Moreover, please observe that I'm not shopping online for new running shoes or rad new leggings or even socks. And I'm absolutely not creating a new exercise program for 2016 that features a half-marathon or any kind of regular running whatsoever.
Because January is fertile ground for dangerously magical thinking, and to that I say: Nope.
I appreciate the opportunity within all the New Year's fuss to pause and reflect on what I'd like to change about my life, but I flat-out loathe the insane expectations that suffuse the cultural conversation about change in January.
Resolutions, discipline, focus, and calendars all have a supportive role to play when we want to change. But we're missing something important in the conversation that can trap us in The Land of Magical Thinking.
If, for example, I were to resolve to Go Running! in 2016, then you could safely say I'd lost the plot. This delusional goal would be akin to me vowing to give up chocolate or master calculus (which we can all agree won't happen) - because those things are simply too far from my current reality. Hell froze over for The Eagles but personally I'm not counting on it.
In January, it's weirdly easy to disconnect from reality when dreaming about our new selves for the new year. And if we hang around too long in The Land of Magical Thinking, we generally end up suffering under the pressure and weight of painfully improbable expectations. This can really hurt. (Ever heard of a shame spiral?)
We're in especially bumpy territory for those of us who feel a teeny tiny identification with the term "high-achieving." If you are someone who meets and exceeds any expectation thrown your way, then I am definitely talking to you and giving you a hug at the same time. It's okay.
So I've learned - the hard way - to check in lovingly with reality when I'm setting intentions for a new year. This is what's often missing.
My shaky knees, a bulging disc and arthritis in my lower back, and the fact that I don't really want to exercise this way all make "Go Running!" an incredibly poor fit. I'd literally be dreaming if running were my resolution. Delusion.
Whereas "Go Running!" or "Speak Fluent Japanese" or "Make Six Million Dollars" might align with your reality in the most perfect way. Yes?
So, here in early January, I invite you to pass any of your new aspirations through the Reality-Checker machine:
- Do you want or need something different in your life that will actually take new skills (or a new lens) in order for things to actually change?
- Do you want or need support, community, and / or accountability to make things different? (Because change is ALWAYS - but only always - frightening and vulnerability-inducing.)
- Do you have a sense that there's something underneath your new plans that needs some unpacking, some unwinding, or perhaps some skilled attention?
- Do you feel more loving and peaceful and inspired as you sit with this goal? Or do you feel tense and constricted and pressured?
If these questions help you slip away from The Land of Magical Thinking, please enjoy (and go gently). Maybe take a deep breath, and see where you're realistically willing to do the work, to invest time, effort, and probably money, to learn something new, to challenge old patterns. See what actually moves you, sparking palpable joy in your bodily cells (!).
Or, not! Remember, if you haven't felt up to doing resolutions or other New Years-y stuff, I support that! In fact, I wholeheartedly raise my mug of tea and salute you because I trust that you're following your own instincts. We all get to choose our own adventure.
This isn't about under-achieving or excising the magic of dreams from your life. But it is about treating yourself with courageous loving-kindness: how can we lead with felt inspiration AND give our trusty Reality-Checker a chance to drive as well?
Speaking of, if I feel inspired to add another running adventure to an exercising moment - if my legs feel alive and buzzing at the prospect - and if I feel overjoyed by the idea - then you better believe I will get out and run. (In my same old sneaks, probably.) If I don't want that, I'll see what it is what I do want. Because following the energy of your inspiration without pressure creates real magic.