No matter what sport or activity you are involved in, it seems that all goals are centered around numbers. Score, weight, miles, time, etc. My workouts and training are no different. In competitive jump rope most events are timed and the goal is to get as many speed steps or double unders in that set time frame. All I do in my head during an event and practice is count. Other people may count the miles they run or the number of goals in a practice (or baskets or yards or touchdowns)…you get the point. Statistics and numebrs are inescapable for athletes. This mindset has bled over into recreation as well. Miles on a treadmill, calories during a workout, laps in a pool. I remember my dazed and confused face when my psychologist asked me about how my exercise lined up with my values. Values? Besides being competitive and winning I was at a total loss. What did exercise mean to me without assigning quantitative values to it? I really thought it meant nothing. I mean without winning what was the point? And then on the off season when I was more entrenched in eating disorder behaviors, I also though the whole goal was the most calories burned, or miles ran, or minutes total. That one question threw me for a whole loop. I wasn’t let off easy either. This was one of those questions my psychologist let sit with me. And sit and sit. Can you answer this question off the top of your head? If not, I challenge you to sit with it for a while too. Because I want you to think about this on your own and have your own answers I am only going to give you one example from my own experience. One of my values in life is compassion. One of the reasons I exercise is because I am compassionate towards myself and want to take care of this body I have been given. I have compassion towards others and looking forward to my future I realize that exercise lines up with this value because I want to take care of myself so that I can have children one day and that I can live a long healthy life for my family. This made me think a lot about how some of the exercise I was engaging in was not at all lined up with this value. Running your body into the ground and punishing it for the things it didn’t do that day is not compassion. This whole question started resonating with me as I sorted out my values and realized there is a definite line between positive exercise and detrimental exercise.
To really get in touch with myself and my values, I had to explore exercise without the numbers. Explore what exercise really meant to my wellbeing. What does running actually feel like if I am not running towards a particular set mileage? What does it feel like to just lift weights without thinking about adding more or reaching a particular set for that day? What does it feel like to jump an event without counting or even knowing the end outcome? This took a lot of patience and effort on my part. It felt extremely out of place and uncomfortable for a while. In training it isn’t always practical to do this in a workout, but I would recommend trying this on your own. Go outside for a run without a tracker and try a new route where you don’t automatically know the mileage. How did it make you feel? What were you thinking about? Even just for a day, try to exercise without a goal centered around numbers. It is like intuitive eating is a way. Exercise because you genuinely want to and stop when you know your body needs a rest. This was the best way to get back in touch with my body. I couldn’t believe how out of touch I was until I started exercising to just exercise. Of course during training, it becomes about numbers again, but because of this practice I can always go back to my roots of why I do this. I make sure and take days where the numbers don’t run everything. You may be reading this and thinking to yourself I bet that works for some people but I could never do that. I thought the same thing. I have been involved with the crossfit community for a few years now and if I can foster this mindset in an environment that is all about the numbers, I have faith others can too. I was deeply entrenched in eating disorder behaviors and I have been free from exercise dependence now for over a year. I challenge you to take one day of your workout routine this week and let your focus be on how you are actually feeling. As exercise begins to shift in your life and it is lining up with your values, you can then start to use numbers as a positive experience and not feel controlled by them. If you have more specific questions about this or my particular experience and workouts, please feel free to leave a comment and also please let me know how this exercise without numbers goes for you!