On self-improvement

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I signed up for the F45 challenge, in a bid to put fitness on my agenda. Self-improvement is where its at these days. We always have to be working towards goals.

F45 combines a number of trends: pursuing a fit and lean body, in a bootcamp, under time pressure. I feel tired just thinking about it.

The marketing for F45 is visual. People are a ‘before’ and an ‘after’ photo. In the after photos, the challenger’s body fat has been shredded and honed into toned muscles. So far, so Instagram. What we don’t see is how they actually feel. Is their life better? What did they have to give up? Was it worth it? So many questions.

So there I am, downloading the app and trying to make sense of the diet plan (protein balls). Schlepping along to punishing workouts where I almost throw up.  I am trying hard to find any aspect of my identity that connects to this lifestyle. Maybe it’s there, and if I keep improving I’ll find it.

I’d been applying for jobs too, balancing freelance work with interviews. Oh, and obviously I was also trying to learn a new language (Italian).

It was a lot.

My beginning the fitness bootcamp coincided with starting a new job. As an instructor, I am teaching design skills to people who want to kick-start or change their career. It’s exactly what I want to do.

Overnight my whole life became about self-improvement. I was learning new skills at work, teaching new skills to others, adjusting to a new commute, rushing back to go to the F45 class, dragging myself home to cook a healthy meal (usually at about 10pm) and trying to master the Italian past tense.

Predictably, I felt exhausted.

Whenever one area of your life gets improved, others seem to suffer as a result. I was burning calories but I couldn’t see my friends so I felt lonely. I was too tired to read or write. I kept forgetting things. If I slept, I’d wake panicking about not meeting the standards at one of my bootcamps.

Before a planned holiday, I squeezed in a morning workout alongside my packing. I wanted to check my progress against the muscle / fat targets on the body scan machine. But I couldn’t because I was supposed to do it before the workout (the conditions had to be consistent). This felt like a failure.

The prospect of trying to keep up a restrictive diet and exercise regime whilst attending a wedding in rural Sicily was laughable. Instead I cried. Everything seemed to be an uphill battle.

What I learned is if you are going to improve or challenge yourself, you have to make room for it. And you have to focus, letting go of other distractions. But thinking we can cope with everything at once is the hallmark of modern times. Why can’t we cut ourselves some slack?

Any one of the things I was attempting is a big deal. Changing your lifestyle, health and physique. Reprogramming your brain with a whole new vocabulary. Pivoting your career. I needed to prioritise and manage my own expectations. It wasn’t going to be possible to do all of this well, or even to scrape by. And I was going to feel worse for it.

So I loosened my grip on self-improvement. One night I went out for dinner and ordered bread and butter, fish and chips and a glass of wine. And I felt like me. Not an improved version, not an after photo, but the familiar one.

I made time to meet with friends again. I sacrificed workouts for social time. I embraced the places I travelled, without trying to live a London lifestyle overseas.

I didn’t excel at F45 and I’m not top of my Italian class. And that’s ok. I am hoping that self-improvement comes in many forms. And not losing the fundamental thread that keeps me in touch with myself has to be a priority.

Working hard. Trying to find the space to improve in one area at a time without capsizing my whole life. And still allowing myself chips.

That’s my new challenge.

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