I love being in the gym alone. Time with my music and my weights clears my head and perks me up. Exercise can be the perfect restorative niche for a tapped-out introvert. What exercise shouldn’t be is a way to numb and separate yourself from the world. It shouldn’t take over your life. You can’t sacrifice meaning and connection and be well.
Consistent workouts are a normal part of a healthy and happy life, but they should not be the only part of your day that matters. Using exercise as a way to avoid whatever is bothering your or delaying difficult conversations is the opposite of living a healthy and happy life. Overtraining is not only physically harmful; it can keep you from finding joy in your work and family. Too much dedication to a workout plan or a diet can prevent you from making meaningful connections and finding purpose in your life.
Just like losing yourself in back to back workouts, food can also be a tool for numbing and disconnection. If you have nothing left to give at the end of the day it may feel like a pint of ice cream or a big bowl of ramen is the quickest way to ease that tired, lonely feeling. Restrictive diets can throw up a wall between you and your squad. They want sushi, but you’re not “allowed” carbs. Eating at home is undoubtedly preferred most days, especially for your budget, but finding solace in eating alone in a mindless and disconnected way is not.
You can be too devoted to your fitness goals. They should not block you from making meaningful connections and pursuing purpose in your life.
Changing your lifestyle could mean reassessing priorities and even letting go of unsupportive or toxic relationships. It does not mean cutting yourself off and losing a sense of belonging. Wellness means honoring all parts of you. You can train for a half marathon and join a book club. You can commit to eating out less and still meet up with your best friend for a weekly date. You can make strides toward a healthier life without sacrificing meaning and connection.
Creating connections that refill your cup requires finding your middle ground. If you’re struggling to find a way to a healthier and happier life without isolating yourself from the world around you, here are some things that can help.
Even an introvert can find joy in a group. I need quiet time, but I also need to feel a sense of belonging and friendship to feel well. I always feel better after book club or meeting a few of my fellow fitness pros for tea. The key for an introvert is to keep the group small and purposeful. Gathering with a goal and without a crowd makes connection easier. Look for small group training instead of a boot camp or a running buddy instead of a running group.
Extroverts should seek out group fitness. Rock climbing or a dance class might be the thing you need to create a new support system or bring an old friend along for the ride. The social pressure of friend groups to NOT change is real even if it may not be a conscious effort. Getting old friends involved in your new healthy and fun activities can boost the benefits for all of you.
Host a Meal of Meaning. There is a time and a place for everything. That includes grandma’s mac and cheese. A Meal of Meaning is a celebration of the foods that hold a special place in our hearts. Everyone brings a dish that holds significance in their life. As you sit together and enjoy them, everyone slows down to savor the taste and share the stories behind the food. Bringing food and friends together can help build a better relationship with food by taking the shame away from old comfort foods and dispelling the notions of good and bad foods.
It’s time to set boundaries. Brene Brown says resenting someone makes it hard to be compassionate. You can’t be the friend, spouse or parent you want to be if you feel taken advantage of or taken for granted. Invite others into your journey but don’t wait for them to join you if they are resisting. Clear communication of boundaries sets clear expectations of when you will be available, physically and emotionally, for those you care about. If you have a hard time saying no when someone asks for your time, say “let me get back to you.” That gives you space and time to evaluate if you’ll resent the yes and perhaps time for that person to ask someone else.
Finding meaning and connecting with yourself requires finding your purpose. If you’re for searching for more clarity and help to live with intention, my favorite tools are a time study and the 100 Dreams List.
I did my first-time study in March of 2015. I used an app called Toggl to account for all the minutes in my day but my favorite time management expert, Laura Vanderkam, uses a basic Excel spreadsheet blocked out in half-hour increments. It doesn’t matter how you choose to do it, what matters is that you get a clear picture of where your time is actually going. If you find yourself engaged in hours of social media time and other numbing activities it may be time to ask yourself what you’re avoiding or what you need to let go.
You also need to give yourself permission to dream. I took another cue from Laura Vanderkam and began my 100 Dreams List after completing that first-time study. Giving yourself the freedom to list out 100 dreams means there is room on the list for all things big or small. It took me just over three months to complete my list so set a deadline for completion that is reasonable. As your list grows, you’ll start to see themes emerge about what your path is really all about. My big themes are travel, teaching and tea. I’ve been diligently focused on these things ever since and it’s made a big difference in my happiness and overall sense of wellbeing. Continue to let go of what’s draining or distracting you so you can say yes to the things that bring you meaning.
To feel well, you need to feel like you’re living with purpose and making meaningful connections. If you’re sacrificing those things in your pursuit of health, it’s time to rethink the plan.