Several ideas have crossed my path this week that have made me ponder my hyperfocused approach to fitness, especially swimming.
Earlier this week, I was talking with a good friend who said, “I don’t time my walks and don’t care how far I go, so it doesn’t matter to me. I left all of that competitive time (running, walking, etc) stuff behind in the military.” Instead he walks by the river, watches the morning sun and the ducks on the water, the beavers build their lodge, and basically enjoys being outside.
Another friend sent a link on the “Fun Theory”, a fascinating YouTube video documenting a social experiment. A group of engineers transformed subway stairs from plain into a black and white, musically functional piano keyboard – and 2/3 more people took the stairs just to play on them.
Entrepreneur and fitness guru Jonathan Fields has a fabulous post on how to make exercise more fun than sex. Perhaps he’s a tad optimistic, still, he has a point. We used to run around outside playing until we were exhausted as kids, and never once thought of it as drudgery or exercise.
So what do I do?
I swim. A lot. I’m kind of obsessed with swimming. And truly, I love it! I enjoy the coolness of the water, the weightlessness, the strength, grace, rhythm and endurance I feel in the water. In a pool, I like the smell of chlorine, the stillness, the snap of a perfect flip turn. In open water, I like the light refracting through the water, the waves, the sense of connection to the natural world.
Still, I let myself get so hyperfocused on the trivial details, the part that matters so much less. I require myself to swim two miles per workout. I want to get faster, I’d like to get my mile back under 30 minutes. I need to kick more. Intervals would make me faster; harder workouts would improve my time.
Holy crap, I’m 45 years old and I’m not and never will be Dara Torres! As my friend said, it’s not about competition. If I do what I love, and focus on the things I enjoy most, the rest will follow. And even if they don’t, I’ll stick with it, because doing what brings me joy motivates me.
I also walk and do yoga, but I don’t get so wrapped up in compulsiveness there. I don’t know if it’s because I am not so attached to those activities, because they aren’t naturally competitive sports, or because they don’t lend themselves as easily to the process of continuous evaluation and improvement.
The line between exercising for enjoyment, fitness, physical and mental health, and obsessively, compulsively exercising to a rigid perfectionist standard, is not fine and is not blurry. I wander across it far too often. I need to – I will – focus on joy and loving what I do as a primary goal, a lifetime goal.