Lessons in Listening: Flexibility is the key to a healthy life

Five percent of women deliver babies on their actual due date and I happen to be one of those women. My daughter joined this world with precise punctuality on Feb. 29, 2008, Leap Day. I like to tease her that this will be one of the unique facts she shares on Jeopardy someday. I tease myself, as well, chuckling about the universe’s joke on me — confining a person who loves to throw parties to a four-year cycle of legitimate celebration. Fortunately, for my 11 year old, I mean 2 ¾-year-old little person, this mama rarely follows the universe’s advice, so party time it is.
The theme this year, is party games — as she has been obsessed with board games of late. Her current most beloved game is Clue. We play Clue before school in the morning. We play Clue while I make dinner. We play Clue before bedtime. My one request is that I always get to be Colonel Mustard and thankfully, she obliges.
I am writing about this, first, because my mind is cluttered with relay-race ideas, charades and Twister. Delightfully cluttered, I might add. Second, considering that I am playing Clue in all my spare moments, my daily routine has looked a little different this past week. My morning movement and meditation did not happen with the same regularly. I’ve walked past my fiddle for a number of days without bowing a tune. The laundry is being done, but my folded clothes pile is lingering next to the closet. How do I feel about this? Honestly, I feel perfectly comfortable with this shift in focus. Why? Because this is a paradoxical health coaching secret: flexibility is the key to sustainable healthy lifestyle choices.
Flexibility is the key that allows us to neither be on nor off the wagon, but instead gives us the opportunity to bushwhack our path and create our own journey toward a healthy life. When we lead with this flexibility we not only honor ourselves as whole human beings, we also create a mindset of spaciousness. I didn’t use my treadmill this morning? That’s OK; maybe I could use my desk bike for 10 minutes in my office between clients. I could park further from my office than I normally do.  Alternatively, I could do 10 squats every time use the bathroom. Here are some ideas that can support a shift to a flexible mindset:
Accept that there are going to be challenges. Challenges to our long-game health goals can come in all shapes and sizes. When I ask clients what challenges they might face when attempting to meet their stated goals, they often suggest catastrophic and negative challenges, such as illness or a broken down car. Interestingly, the more frequent and difficult challenges often involve choosing between multiple desires. You want to go to the 6 a.m. Kettlebells class and you also want to cuddle with your partner before getting up. You want to honor your commitment to healthy eating, meal planning and prep on Sunday and you also want to say yes to a family ski day. Sometimes we can get creative and manage to meet multiple desires simultaneously. Sometimes we have to choose.
Acknowledge that you are making a choice. There is a familiar refrain in my coaching office that goes like this, “I don’t know what happened, (said goal) just didn’t happen.” The truth: When we do not meet our stated goals, it is because we made the choice to honor a different need or desire. We do not need to berate ourselves or feel guilty, we just need to step in and take full ownership of our lives. When we do this, we create the opportunity for greater self-understanding. By obliging my daughter’s Clue frenzy, I made the choice to dial up my playfulness and relationship time, which necessitates that I dial down other parts of my life, such as exercise and playing music. It has been a tough couple of weeks at work, and when I own my decisions and look inside, what I need right now is connection and love.
Trust yourself. When we own our choices and better understand our “why” we strengthen our connection to ourselves as whole beings. Choosing to eat one cookie today does not define you as an unhealthy eater. Choosing to stay in bed today and snuggle your partner does not translate into you being a lazy slug. It just means that today, in this particular moment, you chose this particular path. In the next moment, next hour, next day, you can choose again. Now, if perhaps you notice that you regularly choose a behavior that does not support you, that is more information for you to make a deeper dive into yourself. No judgement, just understanding.
With that, pennies and cards are packed and we’re off to the neighbors for family poker night.
Laura Wilkinson is a Nurse Practitioner and Integrative Health Coach at Middlebury College. Learn more about her and her coaching at middlebury.edu/middleburyintegratedhealthcoach.

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