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Climbing the Hill

Long blog – featuring health, guilt, body image, goals, systems, philosophy. 

 

This morning I climbed the Hakarimata summit track alone. To put that in context, I’ve only done the track about a dozen times in total over the last 12 months so there is no pattern of regular habit here. I have never gone alone before, I normally go with Shawn my husband and once we did it with the kids…very slowly.  It’s a beautiful track, filled with birdsong and bush. It’s nature’s gym these days, a well-worn track used by many, many local people pursuing physical goals or simply aiming for the view from the top. 

 
Shawn and I consider it a huge treat to go and do the track together, like a daytime date. We chat on the way and continue chatting until I can’t talk any more. Tackling 1349 steps will do that to you. The companionship is lovely, he appreciates it because ‘doing the hill’ is normally a solo endeavour for him so to share the moment with me is always special. Without fail, he comments every time on my method and how differently I approach the task of the climb.  

 

I plod. Left leg, right leg. Repeat.  

I’m not chatty, I just keep moving. Hardly any breaks, lots of breathing in and breathing out. Always thank the people who share the track and pass one way or the other. He chirps away behind me with his own commentary and plenty of encouragement. I don’t need it, I am in my zone. I often think back to the birth of both our sons and how I got through labour in a very similar fashion. Eyes closed, leave me to do my work please, I’ve got this. He likes to run down like a freight train and I’ve come to enjoy the added challenge of a fast descent as well. Without fail, he checks our time when we get back to the car and marvels that this method of mine has returned us within a comparatively competitive timeframe. Which I find pleasing, but only to a certain degree. 

But today he wasn’t with me, I went alone. I wanted to go and he couldn’t, so I went alone. 

I made an important mental shift recently, which I think explains in part why I wanted to head off at 7am on a weekend morning and do this gruelling climb. I’m a classic vanilla when it comes to body image. I’ve never been totally happy with the reflection in the mirror. Years of on-off diets, wide-ranging dabbles in sports and exercise, always wistful for skinnier and the fashions that suit skinny. No real commitment to any of it. I saw the movie Embrace in 2016 and bought my own copy so I could share the vital message Taryn Brumfitt wants women to hear. How ironic that I screened this movie, loaned this movie and felt pretty enlightened, yet on I went with my habits and misplaced beliefs that I need to look a certain way.  

Last month I realised I could look at this in a whole new way. Duh, yes even I get slapped in the face with obvious wisdom! I needed to look at things in a new way. The kickboxing gym I signed up with in May this year is a great place to squeeze in a lunchtime class or workout, but I found myself skipping classes and making excuses. The trainers are amazing, the classes are excellent, I absolutely love punching things…and yet. The print-out of the strength training plan I had asked for is gathering dust. I had set myself a crushingly massive goal. One day at the gym, I verbalised the wish to lose weight, gain strength and flexibility, be a fit and able parent to my active kids…maybe even enter another fight one day. I named the goal and then the work to get there daunted me into inaction. Ever felt that way? It sucks. Guilt at your own inability to meet the very goal you named loads up like a heavy cloud and hey presto, the inaction becomes inertia. Because I’m an A-grade wish-maker I also timed this particular physical goal with a food-related goal of eating no-carbs or fruit six days a week. Oh, and I’m also pretty busy at work and Shawn is away from home during the week until December on a course. The result was so predictable. 

What’s the shift then? What did I change? There wasn’t a specific ah-ha moment that I can recall. I think one day I just asked myself a new series of questions. 

  • ‘What if you just decided to exercise because it’s fun and you took away your goals?’ 
  • ‘What if you stopped thinking so hard about what to eat and just ate food?’ 
  • ‘Could you try that for a while and see if it works?’ 

And most importantly, 

  • ‘Can you look at the reflection and just love it right now, not wish for a new reflection for once?’ 

And so I found myself answering yes to all these questions and I found myself feeling happier. And I went back to kickboxing and had a blast smashing the pads and getting very sweaty. And I ate good food and some treat foods and it was so flippin tasty. And I woke up today and wanted to go up the hill on my own. And it was so awesome to be there, with my wonderful strong body climbing up every one of the 1349 steps and then racing down them all over again. I had my breath, my heartbeat, my thoughts. I felt completely alive. And grateful. 

So here are the thoughts that came to mind as I climbed. I arrived at two conclusions that are my take on why the hill climb is a metaphor for a purposeful life. 

  1. Go as fast as you can, pick up the pace and don’t stop 
  2. Go with someone, it’s better that way 

​Let me expand.  

  1. Time really is short. When taken as a countdown clock it’s easier to see life as a finite and precious opportunity. It’s going to end one day. If you want to know when, try this site. Don’t see this as macabre, it’s just truthful. What’s your purpose, why are you here? Figure it out and get cracking. With pace and purpose, the focus seems sharper. It stills my mind and I am consumed by the task at hand. On the hill this morning I realised that my heart rate was thumping and my breathing was loud and obvious – but it was not correlated to my legs’ ability to move. They could keep going. Breathing fast did not mean my legs couldn’t do it. That’s when I get my plod on! Disconnect from the breath and the heart-thump and keep the legs moving. Left leg, right leg, repeat. You need fewer breaks that you think you do.  
  2. There was definite benefit to being alone with my thoughts today, but it’s easier to do life with someone else. We are wired for connection and belonging to a group. Invite and involve others on the journey, share the ride and share the air. Listen and talk. It changes your perspective. I was alone in my climb, but far from alone on the hill. The other people out there early this morning were a microcosm of humanity in all its diverse forms – some chatty, some private. Some big, some small. Some fit, some aspiring. Some accommodating, some selfish. Some go all the way, some go some of the way. And so it is. 

Every time I’ve been on the track, you witness a variety of etiquette for how those climbing the hill choose to pass by those descending. The path is narrow in places and surfaces vary from gravel track to gravel steps to boardwalk steps with a handrail. Some people use the chance to pause, step aside and let others pass – a handy way to catch your breath. Sometimes you have to because someone (like Shawn) is thundering down with no visible intention of stopping. Some people steadily plod upwards and the descending team have to defer and pass carefully. I think it’s important that I have always noticed at least one person who says, ‘there’s plenty of room, keep coming’ and just makes the moment of passing work for both parties. It’s a fleeting moment, we get super close for a millisecond then it’s over. I get to keep going up and you get to keep coming down and in the moment, both of us are moving forwards to where we want to be. 

I’m going to start saying it too. There’s plenty of room. 
Michelle x 

This blog was partly inspired by this great article on the value of systems over goals. Check it out https://jamesclear.com/goals-systems  

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