My experience has taught me that in each person's life there is a cycle of habits having to do with nutrition, exercise, self-image, and their close relationships. I've written about this extensively in my Q&A blog. If you feel you are spinning the right way in this cycle and have a healthy, positive momentum, call your mother, thank her, and then count your lucky stars because most of us have to work for this. If you feel you are spinning in a negative way in this cycle, take heart. There are ways to unmask and understand habits and there are concrete strategies that can be applied to create new habits which can go on to redefine other areas of your life. Read about one such strategy here on my blog.
MA, LPC, COACH
I've been experimenting with this for years. In searching for the answers I've made many stops along the way. At first it was some reasonably successful trial and error with my own family as a young wife. Then later, it became trial and error being a foster parent while caring for multiple sets of other people's children alongside my own. My foster parent experiences opened my eyes to just how powerful and seemingly immovable these preset habits and life patterns can feel. I thought I could change things on my own, but I would repeatedly hit a wall where I couldn't get our family life optimized. Eventually, I was so puzzled and frustrated by this that I gave up fostering, went back to school, got a master's degree in counseling, and began working as a therapist. Still, even after the schooling and becoming a practicing counselor, the process to consistently help people affect change in their lives alluded me. It wasn't until I began training for an Ironman triathlon that I was forced to look deep within myself, think strategically, figure out how habits work, and find ways to change my own. Thank goodness this happened at a time in my life when I had acquired a background in psychology as well as the maturity to be self-aware so that I could record what I was learning for others. But I've jumped ahead. Let me back up.
I'm the girl that, in high school, hated to sweat. When we had to run the mile in gym class for time, I walked it. I liked to read and didn't want anything to do with structured exercise. That was me, version 1.0.
After college, I watched as my dad began to run on a regular basis. At first he ran to lose weight. But along the way to becoming thinner, something happened and running became so much a part of his identity that it began to rub off on me. I started to gradually run longer distances in my late 20's. I discovered that this habit gave me confidence and peace and by the time I hit my 30's, I would run nearly everyday. It was such a gradual transition over many years that eventually, pretty much through daily habit alone, I reached a point where I was good at the marathon distance. Proud of myself, I subconsciously decided that the marathon was good enough and my growth as an athlete plateaued at a very respectable level. (not that I would have ever called myself an 'athlete' out loud) This runner person that I had become was, to me and those who knew me well, an unexpected phenomenon.
Then, just as I had gotten nice and comfortable with my identity, out of the blue my family signed me up for Ironman without asking me.
WHAT?!? WE NEVER EVEN TALKED ABOUT IT. EVER!!
For those of you who don't know, Ironman is a 2.4 mile swim followed by a 112 mile bike ride, followed by a 26.2 mile run. Back-to-back-to-back and all taking place on the same day. My surprise 'sign up' confirmation came in a plain white envelope as the last Christmas present under the tree that year. I was 40 years old, somewhat new to biking, and I certainly didn't know how to swim in open water. The Ironman race was 9 months away. While it was hard for me to believe that I was signed up for Ironman, it was downright shocking that some deep part of me was now actually considering and contemplating if I had the guts to try this. To pull this off, I would have to control and rework almost all of my daily habits to achieve this one result. And I would have to decide to do it, because the 'sign up' came with an 'out'. I had 14 days to decide if I was going to attempt Ironman Madison. If I declined on the belief that I just couldn't do it, the Christmas present said that my family would cancel the signup, no shame, and that they would donate the partial refund of the canceled race fee to charity.
This turned out to be one of the scariest and best experiences of my life as I pushed myself way outside my comfort zone in pursuit of this goal. The insight that I am offering at Unexpected Athlete is my way of giving what I have learned to others. It's what I am passionate about and it's what makes me tick. Like the invitation to Ironman that was given to me by my family, my program includes a decision point for you. Will you take the introductory step? Don't be confused. This is not about athletics. This is about habits and finally learning to control them, all while living a balanced life. Think carefully, but at the same time think boldly. With the right support and framework, what could be possible for you? Whatever it is in your life that you want, isn't it time to wrestle with old habits and finally win?