Hyperextending our Metaphysical Muscles
I’ve taken up jogging – for real this time. I’ve downloaded the obligatory app and I am currently completing week 6 of 9. I plan on participating in our town’s Run4Trees 10K race in July, so would seem I am enjoying it much more than I thought I would. After I forced myself to do my jog even in the snow, I think perhaps we could say I’m hooked. This post, however is not entirely about jogging!
Not really the sporty type, I am typically a rather cerebral sort of person. In fact, it had been an ongoing point of contention for my voice teachers and coaches for many years: I’m just too “in my head” and not enough “in the body”. When I am asked about my hobbies (since singing is my profession, “making music” is definitely not in that category), I usually answer that I am a voracious reader. While that is true, perhaps my real hobby is actively thinking – because I love being in my head! That said, all this new physicality with running has created a new perspective for some thoughts I’ve been circling around for some time.
For us medical lay(wo)men, suffice it to say that muscles move in two ways: lengthen and shorten. Eccentric contraction is when the muscle is extended under tension. The opposite movement is concentric contraction, when the muscle shortens and become “fatter”. I propose that our mental/emotional “muscles” work in the same way.
Take the popular idea of New Year’s Resolutions. Every year especially around this time, the media is abound with self-help material. The stores advertise much more around exercise and self-care products, we make resolutions that “this year will be different”. I admit that I do this too! I truly love new beginnings, and though I don’t participate in extreme sports (other than the skydiving when I was in my 20s) I am an adrenaline junkie. When things are new, they are exciting, and that really pumps my blood! So at this time of year (or at any time for that matter) we make our plans to get in shape, to read more, to love more, to be more and that feels great. Our heart and souls are in this new project and we know it will be amazing. We make a huge effort and eccentrically contract (extend) our metaphysical muscles.
Everyone is different, but I would wager that much of the time, somewhere along the way our plans get derailed. It’s happened to me over and over again. Perhaps we just ran out of steam, or we weren’t really committed to the goals we set in the first place, or our method just didn’t stick. At these times, we just let it go and move on. But what about the times when we are committed? We truly want to change or improve in the way we set out to – so committed, in fact, that we take on too much at once? You might say that we’ve hyperextended our metaphysical muscles.
Many of us have certainly experienced the unpleasantness of the hyperextension of a muscle and the following muscle strain. The symptoms of muscle strain include pain, weakness, a limited range of movement, a “knotted-up” feeling. The notion of pushing your limits is one I definitely get behind, and I have my small private moments of pride when I am doing just that. So when I say the following, it is not to say that we shouldn’t try to go outside our comfort zone, because I believe this is GOOD.
The problem is that inevitably, when we take on more than we can manage, when we stretch too far beyond our current capacity, we’ve hyperextended. It all becomes too much. Every day was busy before, but now there is such a flurry of ideas and to-dos that we get lost in the storm. We seem to tread water ok for a while, the adrenaline rush keeps us going. And then it happens: almost like a reflex, our metaphysical muscle heads in the opposite direction of this over-stretch and we feel a sense of concentric contraction, a “folding-in” on ourselves, a recoiling. We can imagine our center, our essence, becoming something like those little pill bugs we called “roly-polies” as kids.
To avoid the pain, we escape into a Netflix binge. To ignore the weakness and limited range of movement we feel, we do other seemingly easier things; get caught up in all the “busy-ness” of our lives. We don’t like the “knotted-up” feeling and take it out on those around us. We are extremely uncomfortable, both by the hyperextension and by the recoil. Being lost in this storm is worse than how our lives were before because we feel very deeply about the changes we are trying to implement and we believe in their benefit – making for a perfect recipe of self-loathing. We pile on the negative self-talk. Our mood is dark. We tell ourselves that “that’s life” or “it was pretty impossible anyway”. The notion of failure looms ever-present for a while, until we get over it (or don’t).
But what if we didn’t attach so much meaning to the concentric contraction we’ve just experienced? What if we just looked at this situation as a simple hyperextended muscle and went about treating it, instead of berating ourselves over another failure to follow through? Let’s look at treating our “muscle” strain:
REST is absolutely essential. Have we been burning the candle at both ends? We want to work out, so we get up earlier in the morning to fit it in. But we also have been staying up late – not for the TV series we like, but to put our finances in order, take an online course or to spend more time with our partner. Sleeping only four hours a night is not a sustainable lifestyle folks! We really must make sure to get at least six (7.5 hours is my go-to number).
Putting ICE on your strained muscle is beneficial when it first occurs. Metaphorically speaking, we can apply this wisdom to our emotional reaction. Apply it to that (incorrect) perception of failure to achieve what we’d set out to do. Put that emotional reaction on ice: quash any guilt-ridden self-talk and treat the situation with a cool head. We should remember that this is a temporary situation, with a pragmatic solution.
Compression is recommended to alleviate swelling: so let’s really have a look at all that we were trying to accomplish when we hyperextended. It is probably the case that our hopes and motivations swelled and we mistakenly thought the daily program must and could do so as well. Perhaps it would be better to confine those day-to-day tasks to the utmost essential to propel us toward our goals. And if in the paring down we find we cannot possibly accomplish all our goals? I love to “cycle through” my different areas of focus. There is always more I want to do than I have the time for in any given day, week or month. So we may also find that compressing these areas of focus into various periods of time, rather than all at once will reduce our swollen “muscles”. Focus on Project 1 for a month, then Project 2 the three weeks following, then back to Project 1 again for two weeks, for example. In doing so we may find that after a year we’ve completed all four original projects not at the same time but in the same time anyway!
Our hyperextended metaphysical muscle should also be elevated as much as possible. We must find ways to raise our motivation levels again after the rest, ice, and newly compressed scheduling. After the derailment of our originally-planned amazing life-changes, we should give ourselves the grace to forgive our overzealousness and its capitulation to our limitations. Let’s begin the preparations for the continuation of our journey by elevating our perception of our capabilities. We took a pretty bad fall when we strained that muscle, now we must begin to exercise enough confidence in ourselves that we get up again. Sign up for a daily motivational email, listen to a podcast that lifts you up, revisit the reasons you wanted to make the changes to begin with. Often this revisiting of reasons is in and of itself enough to elevate our morale once more!
Now, it is recommended that we don’t rest too long. Muscles that aren’t in use atrophy and we began this process because we wanted to grow, not the reverse! It is now time to stretch a bit and warm up. Pick up one element of the plan and walk with it for a week. We’ll find it’s not so difficult, then when we’re ready, we can pick up the next element and keep walking. After that, we can take that metaphysical muscle for a jog – but only with the two “weights” we’ve been walking with already.
We should trust in ourselves that we’ve taken very good care of our hyperextended muscle and that it is truly on the mend. The best part of this entire experience, is that after we’ve hyperextended, recoiled, and rehabilitated our psychological/emotional muscles we find that they are stronger and more flexible now than they were in the first place. Hopefully after living through this process once (maybe twice..) we’ll be able to recognize the warning signs before we let that hyperextension happen again. We’ll warm up with a more realistic assessment of what is possible before we set out on that new journey, and we’ll increase the number of these journeys in general to stay better in shape. Most importantly, however, is that if we ever hyperextend again, we’ll know it when we see it. And with this knowledge we’ll be more prepared to treat ourselves with better bedside manner than we have in the past!
There is nothing wrong with pushing your limits, in fact I even recommend it. We just need to take it step by step to achieve a higher level of metaphysical fitness, and repeat the gentle stretch over and over to stay in shape and avoid too much injury!