I have always known the strong relationship between mind and body. Recently, I was reminded of its importance. For a couple of months now, I have been attending a new class at the gym. Weekly, I enter this torture chamber, I mean work-out studio with resistance, dread and frustration. As soon as I see the stations set up with bands, weights, gliders, jump rope and benches, I hear a part of me telling me, "it's okay to take a sharp left to the treadmills." "I'm hot." "I'm tired." "The class seems full." Honestly, I have never pretended to be excited or tried convincing myself the class won't be as bad as it looks. I accept it will be exhausting and challenging. I accept my feelings of frustration, hesitation and fear (jump ropes scare me) as part of the experience. I realize when I enter the room, I am not only exercising my body but my mind as well.
In comparison, it made me think of emotional challenges and how easy it can be to shut down the pain, as a way to cope. Where did we learn it is 'better to look on the bright side" and "stay positive" when faced with emotional challenges? I do not sugar coat my feelings and thoughts when it comes to the gym class. I accept them as a part of the process. When my legs feel like jello and I want to double over, I don't tell myself, "This isn't so bad." or"I am just exaggerating the pain." It is hard, very hard but I can do hard things. I accept it and feel it. These physical sensations guide and teach me what I need: push through, take a break, drink water etc. When the lady next to me is dry heaving, it doesn't negate the fact my arms, holding 20 pound weights....okay, 10 pounds (for now)... are wobbly and ready to give in to the pain. However, when we compare our pain to other's experiences, emotional pain seems easy to ignore. "They have it worse. I shouldn't be complaining about what I am going through." Just because you only have one finger bleeding and someone else has two, doesn't mean you should not attend to your injury. How does this logic get lost with emotional injuries?
I don't let the pain prevent me from completing the class. I am not ignoring the pain either. I am using it as a way to build and exercise the part of me that can do hard things. I cannot control the pain but I can control my reaction to it.
I could try to ignore the pain which would lead to injury. I could prevent the pain which leads me to the treadmills: "my comfort zone". Growth and 'comfort zone' go together like oil and water. When I walk through those studio doors, I am not only building muscle but building and getting to know that part of me that can do hard things. Each time the instructor says, "25 burpees", I mentally yell back, "You are kidding me. You're evil. I am going to die!" I really want to hate this instructor but she could seriously be in the dictionary (do people still read dictionaries?) under badass and cool. Plus, she has good taste in music. Songs of the beloved 80's. Wouldn't you know, I discovered I could actually do 25 burpees, with lots of breaks and probably more of a reach instead of jump after 10 burpees (beginning of class, the reach started closer to 7 burpees. I am making progress!) I don't have to like what I am doing. I can even feel fear, apprehension and frustration. What I learned is that I don't have to ignore pain to do hard things. Really, you can't do one without the other but oh, how we try!
If we only focus on the pain, we lose sight of the I can do hard things part. Conversely, if we only focus on the I can do hard things part, we ignore pain, until we can no longer. Avoiding the pain keeps pushing us harder and faster, because if we s l o w or stop, we might actually feel the pain. If I lean into the pain, it gives me the ability to build and strengthen the can do hard things part of me. The part of me that feels pain (emotional or physical) needs to be exercise buds with the I can do hard things part of me. We need both parts, pain and can do hard things, available to heal and grow from the challenges we face.
When I leave the gym studio, I feel exhausted. However, it is a feeling of relief and release. The can do hard things part of me is right there with me, high-fiving the pain part of me. Training my, can do hard things part, in the gym, will better equip me to handle the next life challenge or significant life event. I know my can do hard things part of me will show up and f l e x for the challenge.
Being a two-time cancer survivor has brought pain, challenges, anger and exhaustion into my life but it also introduced and befriended, the can do hard things part of me. I would never want nor choose to go through cancer again or any other significant life challenge. However, I know if pain works-out with can do hard things part of me, I will get through whatever I am going through.
How can you f l e x your can do hard things part of you? It doesn't need to be the gym. It could be...
- Learning a new language or dance
- Joining a yoga class or toastmasters
- Signing up for karate
- Taking up drawing or painting
- Singing lessons
Consider the interest or activity
- something you choose
- in a relatively controlled setting
- something for yourself (your progress is rated by you, not your boss or in competition with others)
- doesn't cause a high level of distress or triggers 'old stuff"
When your can do hard things and pain are working together, you are literally re-wiring your brain, pairing a positive belief and adaptation to a stressful or challenging situation. Therefore, when you are faced with something you do NOT
- have a choice
- environment is not controlled
- your life-changing event affects others or their life- changing event affects you
- is a high level of distress and triggers 'old stuff'
As I see it, the goal of the class is not to drop sizes but to bulk up my can do hard things part. Be sure to flex today!