The other day I was talking to a friend who was having a pretty rough week anxiety-wise, and she mentioned that she’d been working out and going on a hike every day.
My initial thoughts were, “Damn, girl! Working out twice a day even when your anxious?!” I was impressed. And perhaps… envious? Of her obvious willpower?
I told her as much, and she replied something to the effect of, “I don’t do it because it makes me feel better, I do it because it keeps me sane.”
Did you get that?
She didn’t go on the hike because she expected to feel better afterwards, she went on the hike because she knew if she didn’t things could get worse.
Literal exercises in sanity. That’s what she was doing.
Anyways, fast forward to this morning where I’m at the gym and having a pretty crap workout. It doesn’t seem to matter what song I put on or what exercise I do, the endorphins just aren’t kicking in. Lifting heavy things isn’t giving me the relief I’d hoped and I am NOT happy about it. In fact, I almost feel wronged. It was a mission to get myself here so I expect to feel rewarded. I expect to at least walk out of here with a feeling of… Yup, that was worth it.
I didn’t. And that’s when her words popped into my head.
I don’t do it because it makes me feel better, I do it because it keeps me sane.
Ohhhhhhhhh. This is it, huh?
Sometimes it feels good to work out. Sometimes it doesn’t.
Sometimes we get rewarded when we show up. Sometimes we don’t.
Sometimes we get praised for doing hard things. More often that not, we don’t.
That doesn’t mean, however, that The Thing isn’t working or that we should stop doing The Thing. This is true when it comes to things that we know are good for our health, and it’s sure as heck true when it comes to things that we know are good for our work.
That’s the hard bit, isn’t it? The actions that help us maintain a stable foundation in the short run or that move the needle in the long run don’t often come with initial proof that they’re working. In fact, sometimes you only notice something’s working when you stop doing it. You only notice that the workouts were helping your anxiety when you take a week off from them. You only learn that people did in fact care about your podcast or your newsletter when you take a month off from it.
It’s easy to point to something and say “That’s good for me” or “That’s important to me”. It’s much harder to do, and continue to do, those things in practice.
It’s hard to keep showing up when you can’t see muscles forming, or feel your mood lifting, or when no one’s knocking on your door to hire you or buy your work. It’s hard to stay committed to something when there’s no short term gain or obvious proof that it’s working. It’s really, really hard to keep showing up when no one’s asking you to and you’re not getting praised every once and a while for it.
We have to persevere much longer than we’d like to see results. We all KNOW this. But we don’t… *know* this. The stuff that works in the long run isn’t as shiny, or as easy to track, or as quick as we’d like. Unfortunately, it seems like all the stuff worth building (solid health, art practices, meaningful relationships, purposeful businesses) is decidedly Not Shiny. And since focusing on the wrong metrics undermines longevity, it might be worth it to look around your life to see where your expectations are out of whack.
Despite the fact that I recently shared with you my mental health tool kit for maintaining my own personal foundation (read: sanity), I don’t think I realized how pervasive this need for noticeable, tangible, instant results is. We really rely on getting some sort of evidence that The Thing is working (at least, I do). I’m getting better at not relying on external validation or evidence, but I totally rely on that internal post-activity boost to signal that I’m doing something right. I rely on that post-workout or that post-sending-a-newsletter high. It doesn’t help that all the thought leaders and gurus seem to sell us on this. “You’ll feel good once you’re there! You’ll be glad once you did it!” etc etc blergh.
The problem is that sort of feedback (yes, even the feedback we give ourselves) can be fickle. It can be inconsistent. And sometimes, it can not be there at all. So we skip the workout, we give up on our art practice, we ditch our blog… all because it feels like it’s not working anymore.
And sure! Maybe it’s not and something needs to change. But maybe… maybe our metrics are off? Our expectations are too high?
Instead of walking in the gym with the intention of having a great workout, perhaps it’s enough to simply be working out at all. Instead of sitting down to write a great first draft, perhaps a shit first draft will do. Instead of pulling out your paint supplies to create something beautiful and inspired that you’re totally going to share on Instagram later omg everyone will be so impressed!!!, perhaps the fact that you even bothered to paint is fine.
Maybe… regardless of the outcome and how we feel about said outcome, the fact that we showed up at all is the metric worth focusing on.
That’s what I want to leave you with. If you feel like something’s not working, or you’re having trouble showing up, or you feel like you’re not doing enough… maybe you don’t need to change your behaviour, you simply need to change your metric of success. Maybe that metric needs to be as simple as… I showed up today.
Sometimes it’s all we can do. And more often than not, it’s enough.
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