During the holiday seasons we often become busier. This time of year is filled with lots of opportunities for seeing and being with family and friends, but with that comes the possibility of cost to our current set schedules or routines. Specifically, the increase in time we spend with friends and family can affect the time we dedicate to our current fitness and nutrition. For some this results in guilt or creates a sense of If I do this, then I can’t do that. New social commitments, parties, and community events should always be viewed with a sense of gratitude, and not be tainted because we may slow down and have less time centered around fitness and exercise.
As we move into this season its easy to label ourselves: “I’ve been bad.” We can easily take it even further and use a whole different language: “I’ve made all these efforts, succeeded in all my fitness work, and now I’m going no where, I’m stuck – I’ve reached a ‘plateau.’” We begin to focus on thoughts like, “I’ve sunk into a fitness ‘valley’ and I’ll never climb out. I’m in a real ‘slump.’” This is definitely not a good feeling and creates tension during what should be a season filled with joy. It is difficult to focus on the triumphs on our journey to lifestyle change when all we see are obstacles. How can we shift the ways we see ourselves and the language we use? Are there other ways to talk about where we are on this journey? How do we we move from playing the ‘blame game’ to a place where we can actually take advantage of ‘plateaus’, ‘valleys’, and ‘slumps’?
Language is a very powerful thing. We often use imagery – words like ‘plateau’, ‘valleys’, and ‘slump’, for example – to create ‘pictures’ of our worlds for ourselves and/or others. Imagery is a huge part of language and how we absorb new information, or translate concepts so that they makes sense to us. Imagery is also a tool to try and verbalize complex emotions to other people. Think about the words, plateau, slump, and valley. These are terms most often used to tell people, or ourselves, that we’re trapped, stalled, or stopped along our journeys. Lets begin to think about those words differently, without this negative connotation. These words can mean something completely different to us. Perhaps plateaus, valleys, and slumps are destinations, or rest stops along our pathway, rather than dead ends. Their definition leaves room to associate them with arriving somewhere as a result of our efforts. Let’s assume that we’ve been really active to this point, or at least in a constant routine, or that we’ve already made the first step in lifestyle change. Now, if we give ourselves permission to shift how we use words like valleys, plateaus and slumps, we can approach this time with self-care. We leave space to see the detours we take from our active fitness efforts during the holidays are actually opportunities – providing possibilities for what I think of as ‘active recovery’.
Thinking about and accept that our lives and years are made up of cycles, then thinking about pathways through life that curve, meander, and go in multiple directions isn’t so hard to do. This time of year, with all its demands for many people, should be a time for focus on reflection, and a look toward the future. We should embrace this part of the cycle as a time to adjust our fitness road, not slow it or stop it, but adapt it. Its important to adapt our negative connotations along with are schedules. This is a season of purpose rather than an obstacle. So what does thinking about plateaus, valleys, slumps – and peaks – look and sound like if we take this perspective?
People don’t just appear in a valley. They get to valleys by trekking over hills and traversing down – from one peak to another. That’s a journey, that’s a success. Why not rest in the valley, celebrate how you came to be there. Rest those legs, drink some water, reflect. Take on activities that may make sense during this less intense period. If your long bouts of intensity in the gym or longer rides outside aren’t an option take this time to do some body work. Allow your musculature to recover and regenerate fully by engaging in activities like Yoga, Pilates, Foundation Training, or other movement modalities. Then when you’re ready, look ahead to that next peak. Think about how you want to go up it. Do you want to charge up it? Do you want to take a switch back? Or do you want to meander and take breaks along the way? Building a new base allows us to reach the next summit with more energy and vitality. Enjoy the valley, valleys are beautiful, rest in the knowledge that you get to accept another challenge up ahead.
Just like a valley, a plateau signifies success and reward. As we travel, we look toward plateaus off in the distance, we move toward them. They are a goal. In the world of fitness, we know that it’s necessary to allow the body to adapt and then give it new challenges. We go into a program knowing that we’ll eventually reach a plateau. When we reach it, we know that we gave the body what it needed and now it’s ready for more. We should look forward to plateaus because they are a place to rest, regroup, and plan ahead. The New Year is coming and the holiday season is just a short few weeks to plan that next adventure. Stand on the open hill top, look out of the expanse, and choose a new destination.
What does a physical slump look like? Our bodies curl forward into a completely relaxed state, our heads drop, our shoulders bow in, and our bodies just let go. Why is that a bad thing? Many times a slump is the result of extreme exertion. A slump can be the body’s way of just letting go of tension. The same is true for life; sometimes, after we’ve pushed, and strived to get to a point, it’s okay to just let go. When we release completely we have two options, to feel defeat or to feel success. Getting pushed to the point that we just need to collapse doesn’t mean we were defeated, it just means that we put so much into something that our body and mind need to do nothing for a little bit. From that resting position, we can then pick ourselves up and move forward again with a sense of renewed height, strength, and confidence.
Use this period of time to find new ways of letting the body completely release. Come home after a hard day of activity, or just life, and lay down on your back and take a few deep breaths. Rather then caving in, get long, get big, pull your body out of that curled up slump into a long released place of relaxation. Then take a few minutes to stand up tall breath in deep. Ask your body to lift out of that tension and allow it to support itself again. Just like a valley, a slump is a signifier that our body needs to rest and recover. Recover and rebuild through reseting the body, don’t just let it implode.
From this perspective, if you feel you’ve reached a plateau, feel trapped in a valley, or collapsed into a slump adjust take a moment to adjust what those words mean to you. Negativity breeds negativity. Make the adjustment before it before turns to self-blame and true inactivity. When we understand the holiday season, and all that goes with it, is part of life’s cycles, we can choose to make this period purposeful. Look at this time of year as active recovery. This is not giving ourselves permission to stop fitness efforts and exercise altogether; we still need to be active! Rather, view parts of this next month as a restorative and regenerative period that prepares us to dive headlong into our next cycle, which happens to coincide with the New Year.
So decide the outlook for the holidays that makes sense to you. Make a valley a place of peace, rest, and rejuvenation. Make a plateau a destination, a place from which to look forward. Lastly, make a slump the result of total exertion and personal challenge. And purposefully accept and explore all the potential of the season in the way that works best for you.