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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Small steps to awesome . . .

I have long been an "all or nothing" kinda gal.

It seems I was always that way, even as a child. I remember my mother telling me as a teen, when I was distraught about something, that I seemed to lack the ability to see shades of gray. That, to me, things were either good or bad, right or wrong; people also, and that life wasn't that simple, she said.

I understood that of course, intellectually at least, and tried to apply it in my dealings with others. But I never treated myself that way. Everything had to be all or nothing, in every aspect of my life. That led to some incredible adventures and some amazing highs, but it also caused some major lows. Not surprisingly, not being perfect, it also led me to be incredibly hard on myself when I didn't reach my own high standards.

That has changed of late, in a gradual, slow way I didn't even recognize until very recently. There are probably many catalysts - growing older, accepting that being the best I can be doesn't require comparisons with others and, probably most of all, becoming a friend, supporter and cheerleader for a friend in NorCal who has way too much in common with me. Whom I often gently tell the cliches we all know but often fail to heed - to take life in small steps, celebrate small successes on the way to the big goals, walk before you can run, learn to cook a simple meal before tackling a gourmet feast (that last one is mine, and very specific to this friend).

And in giving these long-distance pep talks, it seems I have been listening myself. Without realizing how much I was taking in.

Health-wise is where it has been most noticeable. Having decided to reclaim the fitness I'd let slip in the past few years, I'd been forcing myself to go to the gym for a few months now, pushing myself to attend yoga class. And, although I always felt better for doing so, getting there was a chore, especially rising early enough on cold winter mornings after working a night shift to travel to the yoga studio in time for my favorite classes.

So I bought a mat, found and bookmarked online a selection of yoga routines I enjoy and started getting up when my body wanted, and doing whichever routine I felt most in need of that day. Then, after a good breakfast, I'd go to the gym on the days I had time, while keeping in mind a minimum number of times I wanted to go each week. Without the pressure I'd been putting on myself, it became more fun, yoga something I now look forward to each morning to stretch and wake and start my day well. Even my gym time has gone from my inner voice counting down the kilometers I had left to do on the treadmill or elliptical trainer ("1 more km, .5 to go") to having fun seeing what my body could still do.

I surprised myself last week by running, if only for a few minutes at a time, and enjoying it. That's a big deal for someone who used being asthmatic to get out of ever running at school, then used having had a fractured spine and broken ankles as self-justification to not do so as an adult. (I'm being mindful of past injuries, hence just the short spurts of speed for now.) I also realized that, if I had set myself a goal to run, I would have probably set something unrealistic and been disappointed. Having not done so, a small, small step (or a number of speeded-up small, small steps) became a sense of achievement. Since then, it's been fun to run a little each day and see how my body feels for it.

Then today, when I'd planned a rest day, I woke early and full of energy and with nothing much I needed to do before work. So, after yoga and breakfast, I went to the gym. Here's the thing - I didn't go because I felt I should or that I needed to, but because I wanted to. My fitness level is back to where I want to work out, rather than it being a chore, and I've gotten there by not setting goals, but simply taking small steps. And sure, I'd love to get back to the 55 kg size 4 I was some years back, but I'd rather be healthy and comfortable in my body and enjoy good food.

Work-wise, my progress has been similar. When I started my new job six months ago, I'd beat myself up each time I got something wrong until I was so scared of making mistakes I second-guessed every decision I made. Letting go of always needing to be perfect means it's OK to sometimes make mistakes, learn from them and move on. Doing the best I can while accepting that others may be better not only makes work more enjoyable, but regaining my confidence makes my work better.

Emotionally, I've learned to dial back a little also and learn to let go when I need to. To realize that it's normal to have lonely times when I'm in a new place and that solitude isn't always a bad thing. That friends take time to make and to appreciate those I have are only as far away as a computer or a call. To understand that going from being someone's significant other to being their loving friend takes time and comes with speed bumps and allowing that to develop in its own time also. And to start behaving more as a friend myself, and to myself, if I want that in return.

Spiritually, I'm probably as confused as I ever was. I believe there is something much more than just the material world in which we live, that there's an essence and a purpose that goes beyond this, but I'm still unsure just what, or who,  that is. But I realize that also is OK. That there is no reason to expect myself to understand mysteries far greater minds have pondered for centuries without agreement, but to keep questioning and questing and keep an open mind. While being grateful and appreciative of just how wonderful this physical world is and can be.

So, for me, these small steps have led to peace, and contentment, and, dare I say it, even moments or days of that often-elusive happiness. I expect and trust that will only improve, small step by small step.