Make It a Lifestyle

A new person on the CrossFit message boards asked how people find time and energy to get to the gym often. In response someone observed, “It has to be a lifestyle, not just something you feel like doing.” I like that. Calling fitness a lifestyle is a clearer, more positive way of saying “make it a priority” or “make a commitment.” The latter two phrases sound like tedious job obligations and stressful household projects. But a lifestyle is the thing you love, the thing your free time (or all your waking hours) revolves around because you choose it over and over again. “Make it a lifestyle” is a good way to approach anything that you think could improve your life. It could be working out, gardening, building a relationship, raising children—anything that requires time and practice to deliver its reward.
When I was single and taking group guitar lessons in Chicago, the lessons and the open-mike nights (where I was too shy to play) became my whole social life. My guitar acquaintances said the same. In my twenties it was Rollerblading, when I persuaded my closest friends to get skates too so that we could skate everywhere together. Three years ago my husband and I joined a local boxing gym and became obsessed with boxing. With both of us obsessed, there was no need to keep it under control, and we devoured all the boxing movies and books we could find. We put up a speed bag and boxing posters in our basement. It all reminded me of the way kids and teenagers can get wrapped up in their favorite things to the exclusion of all else. At the same time, we got stronger and stronger from the workouts and felt fantastic.
My obsessions with my interests felt healthy. They were fun. They made me feel enthusiastic and happy with no need to second guess my enthusiasm (am I a huge dork?) as I would have as a teen. It felt good to be completely wrapped up in something unrelated to life’s logistics and chores.
Enthusiasm, and the ability to dive into a new interest and make it a lifestyle, started to feel like a skill. My most compelling hobbies, most recently boxing and now CrossFit, have not only benefited my physical health, but have shown me that I still have the capacity to find and take advantage of the things that make me happy. In hard times, such as after a significant loss, this skill could be a desperately needed skill for sanity and recovery.
The enthusiasm skill is useful in daily life too. People who don’t have major enthusiasms are more vulnerable to getting wrapped up in unhappy situations—petty rivalries, bad relationships, blame. Sometimes I hear someone talk about a frustrating situation that never seems to change and I wish they would get obsessed with something positive instead, whatever it might be. When The Rules was published, the awful book about how a woman can make a man propose, one of my friends mentioned it every so often with respect to her own dating experiences. I wished she would not poison her mind with such negative reading material. I wanted her to take up Rollerblading or guitar lessons and stop worrying about The Rules. Just like replacing a bad habit with a good one, maybe it’s possible to replace the focus of a mind onto better topics. But any suggestion would have been irrelevant. There’s no way to know what would be as compelling to someone else as guitar lessons were to me.
Lifestyles like my current thirst for fitness workouts and information, which will be a lifelong interest, are good for me in another important way: they give me the incentive to push myself past my social comfort zone. It wasn’t easy for me to join the boxing gym, and less so to join CrossFit. Every time I go to the gym, I’m nervous—about social issues, not about the physical challenges. Who is going to be there? Will they be nice to me? Do I annoy the people I like the most by talking too much, or appearing too needy? Let’s be honest: it’s my inner sixth grader, mocked by other kids, who is nervous. She vowed never to show enthusiasm or state an opinion—let alone enter a gym—again. She’s worried about being picked on and humiliated.
It’s true what the psychology people say. We go through life finding opportunities to have another shot at difficult situations from childhood. Sometimes these new chances amount to having the same bad relationship over and over again. But if it’s a healthy obsession, it can be a chance to find some really good news: those mean kids were wrong.
Making fitness a lifestyle means I can get stronger physically and learn new physical skills, which I love to do. Just as important, it means I’m diving into situations over and over again that seem to have a dangerous similarity to miserable, damaging grade school society, and finding joy, accomplishment, and friendship instead.

5 thoughts on “Make It a Lifestyle”

  1. I love this post because it’s a really well thought out, well written observation and self evaluation. I’ve written similar sentiments without the quality. Thus, I’m trying to force people to come read this great post.

  2. Sent by Chris, too!
    Your comment about throwing yourself into your current obsession reminded me about one of my favorite books called “The Teenage Liberation Handbook”. The book is all about homeschooling, or unschooling, but addresses the fact that the natural human tendency is to be somewhat of a dilletante, to throw onself into a subject with passion for awhile and then find a new passion, or modify the old one. The book brings that idea up in the context of setting up a homeschooling curriculum that allows for intense study/experential learning of one topic. That idea of learning seems very intuitive to me, and made me feel a whole lot better about my own pattern of falling in love with, say, biking or a certain kind of dance or reading about Vietnam, and then losing interest or getting my fill of that interest and moving on to something else. I always thought this pattern meant I was flaky, but I’m pretty convinced now that it just means I live a lifestyle that is full of diverse interests and odd enthusiasms, and that this makes my life quite interesting and less rule-bound.
    I’ve read your site before and must say that Cross-Fit scares the bejuses out of little ole me, but you my dear, kick butt!

  3. Fran, what a wonderful post. And I’m so happy for you (and a bit jealous) that your husband shares your enthusiasm for boxing (and CrossFit, it seems).

Comments are closed.