Mid-life crises, sitting on the fence, being “in between jobs” (or, as I refer to my current training situation, “in between gyms”), grey areas, limbo… Being in between things is heavy with negative connotations.
I mean, they’ve even made a hugely popular TV series and movie inspired by the awkwardness that accompanies being of an age that is somewhere in between childhood and adulthood.
We desperately fill our time in between more “important” things with phone calls, reading mindless newspapers and magazines, scrolling through social media on our phones. I, for one, know I get intensely frustrated when plans change last minute and I find myself with loose fragments of time to fill, too short in which to do anything meaningful, but too long to satisfy with a quick breath of fresh air and a stroll in the sun.
But what if the in-between is all we have?
What if life were all about those supposedly wasted hours spent waiting for trains and sat in traffic (which are often those times when you have a great idea, along with 4am), those ad-hoc training sessions in the gym where you suddenly find yourself with less time than you thought (which sometimes are the best sessions you’ve had in weeks), those meals pulled together in minutes from scraps and leftovers and forgotten vegetables wilting in the back of the fridge (which you know always turn out to be some of the most exciting meals of the week)?
As I mentioned the other day, I have been struggling to find anything worth writing about; I have no black-or-white answers to fitness or nutrition issues, but I feel that when people come to a blog with these questions, they don’t want a wishy-washy “it’s all individual” grey answer; I have no recipes because everything I make is just an improvised 30 minute meal relying on my favourite vegetables and spices, and I can’t give any of my dishes a blog-worthy name; I have no workouts to give because I do what feels right at whatever time I find myself in the gym, barely even timing intervals on cardio equipment and often foregoing repetition counts in favour of feeling how much squeeze is left in my muscles.
But it all feels so right, and I have been wishing I could pin some element down to share with the world (or at least the very very small section of it that comprises my followers and random passers-by). That’s what led me to think that maybe, just maybe, a healthy balanced lifestyle isn’t about anything that can be pinned down.
You may have heard of the “intuitive eating” approach which helps combat disordered eating patterns and yo-yo dieting habits, but I’d like to offer an “intuitive living” approach which helps combat feelings of inadequacy, dissatisfaction, and that nagging feeling of “what did I forget to put on my to-do list that I absolutely had to get done right now?”.
Where could we start with this?
We’d probably need to start by renouncing labels. So many of my hang-ups, and those of my clients, are caused by the fear of not meeting other people’s expectations. For years I tried to avoid telling friends I was going to the gym, as I had never been “the sporty one”. People worry about increasing the amount plant-based meals in their diets as they don’t think they could “be vegan”. I hesitated for far too long about attending a meditation retreat as I feared it would turn me into an eccentric hippie type (what would have been wrong with that anyway, I’m not sure). No labels = no expectations = no disappointment.
That might make it a little easier to abandon relationships and interactions that aren’t built on mutual appreciation. You know the kind: the invitations you can’t turn down; the jokes you laugh at even though you don’t find them funny, or worse, you find them offensive; the people who don’t make you feel good about yourself. I’m not saying we can’t be polite and respectful, but if dragging a friendship or other relationship out just for the sake of the status quo causes you to feel nervous, uptight, anxious or depressed, what’s the point? Don’t spend time worrying about people who don’t deserve your energy.
Hopefully those two stages lead us to reject social pressures, making it far easier to see what we actually want for ourselves. And that means, what we want right now. Not what we think we might want in a few hours, days, weeks, months or years, based on what other people have been through or told us. This means: if you want to work out, work out – don’t work out because your friend is working out, or because you think you’ll feel better for it in a few hours. Note that this is different to putting up with training you don’t enjoy (or hate outright) because what you want above all is to win something – as long as you have made the choice that winning is what matters to you. It also means: if you want to eat, or not eat, XYZ, eat it (or don’t), regardless of social media feels and judgemental comments.
Once we learn to separate what we want, or what we think, from what external influences lead us to think we want – or think we or think (follow?!) – there will no longer be an in-between.
I have stopped feeling like I should catch up on emails and texts and Whatsapp messages and social media feeds whilst travelling into or out of work – and I have started enjoying the journey in all its people-watching day-dreaming glory, not caring whether I was caught in traffic or trains were delayed or whether I was going to be early and damn I could have spent an extra 10 minutes in bed after all!
This goes hand-in-hand with one of my favourite prescriptions for life: question authority. There are so many of us, and even each of us is not the same person throughout a lifetime, so how can one rule be right for everyone all the time?
Instead, let’s surf the in-between, waiting for the wave and riding it as far as we can go, and occasionally paddling back out against the tide. Let’s feel our way around the grey areas and see what shapes and textures we can make out. And let’s enjoy it all!