What your sore muscles say about your behaviour

Runner by Nakashi

Running long distances has made my legs strong in the directions that count for running. That is, they’re great at moving forward and back, up and down.

However, if I try to flex or stretch my legs laterally, there is little give – and what movement there is, hurts. A lot.

Ask me to sit crossed legged and I’ll wince like you sat me on a hot grill.

Everything has a cost

This is the price of choosing running. The slow accretion of bruising and scar tissue from hours upon hours of relentless hammering on the pavements of London.

It’s a physical version of the social damage I might have done if I were a model train enthusiast.

I’ve trained my legs to endure punishment in a particular way and they’ve grown strong in that direction. But the cost of that is that they are now stiff and inflexible when used in any other way.

It’s not just physical

What’s true for our body is also true for our behaviour.

Our behaviour is often as singular as my running. We’re consistent in how we act. We’re relentless in our commitment to our habits. We build strength in ourselves, but it’s in a single direction.

Making my legs strong in one direction has made them weak in others. Similarly, by behaving consistently one way, it’s harder for us to flex in other situations. Our muscles are tight, and stretching them in new ways feels unnatural and painful.

We’re not the ones who notice

We’re aware of this inflexibility in the physical realm of our own bodies, but it’s other people who are aware of it when it comes to our behaviour.

It’s those around us who notice our pride, our desire for control, our meanness with resource.

It’s others who can see where our training has made us strong, and where is has made us painful and inflexible.

Unsurprisingly, it’s others who can start to free us from this inflexibility. It’s they who can point out where our behavioural muscles are stiff and painful when we’re too daft to notice.

We still have to dedicate the time and an attention to stretching our tight muscles out, but just being aware of them is a good start.

Racing the sun

Sunrise by Nathaniel F

There is definitely something worthwhile in getting up before the sun.

Starting the day before it feels like the day actually starts, conveys a pretty amazing sense of momentum and achievement. It kickstarts your sense of what’s possible and worth doing in a particular day – making other tasks less daunting and allowing you to approach them with a wider toolkit of options.

I haven’t done the work to understand all the mechanisms at work behind this, but irrespective of whether this is individual or universal, it’s well worth taking a week to experiment to find out for yourself.

Getting up early is not without its costs, but I think we often discount the idea without even considering the potential benefits. And making a choice when you can’t see all the options, means you’re not really making a choice.

If you do want to race the sun up in the morning, then there are a few things you can do to make the process easier:

Get to bed early the night before
This seems like a no-brainer, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth saying. If you want to get up early, make sure that you got to bed early enough to get your normal amount of sleep in the first night or your body will be grumbling for two reasons (it’s too dark and you’re too tired).

Arrange to do something enjoyable
One of the best things about racing the sun is that you get some time when nobody has expectations of you, so use it for something you like. Find something you enjoy, but normally don’t feel you have enough time to do. You’ll discover that using this time for something you like is like finding money you had forgotten about in your jacket pocket, but every day. It also means that if you have challenging day ahead full of tasks which aren’t so fun, you’ve managed to do something for you, first.

Make getting up as easy as possible
Prep as much as you can the night before, it will make the world of difference when the alarm goes off and your body wants to fight the urge to get up. Lay your clothes out, get the coffee stuff on the bench and ready, sleep on the side of the bed closest to the door. It means you can take the first few steps on autopilot and build up the momentum required to bust through the fog of sleep.

Protect your time
Don’t let the world dictate what you do with this time. Whether you want to use it to write, run, cook or play xbox, the only thing that matters is doing what you set out to do. Don’t wake up and decide to do the laundry instead – unless it will bring greater satisfaction.

Watch the sunrise
If you actually beat the sun up (difficult at some latitudes in the summer), then take a few moments to watch it rise. The day never looks as good as it does at sunrise, so take a second to enjoy it.

Don’t get too ambitious
Committing to waking up at 4am is only great if you can reliably get to bed early enough to make it viable. Your body will punish you if you try force a new habit on it and simultaneously deprive it of the resources required to cope with the change. Start small if that makes it easier and just get up 30 mins earlier at first.

If it’s not working, ditch it
If waking up early is painful, makes you want to murder those around you and doesn’t seem to confer any benefits, then don’t do it. I’m fairly sure that this won’t be something that works for everyone, but unless you’ve tried it for at least 3 days in a row, I don’t think you’ll have given it a proper shot. Your body will need a day or two to adjust.