Felicitous Circumstances

I was talking to someone this past week about what it’s like to increase your running mileage, or your commitment to exercise in general. The two metaphors I came up with were spinning plates and shifting gears in a car.

Let me begin with shifting gears. When you’re driving (or even riding a bike), you don’t even think about shifting gears until you’ve pretty much maxed-out the current gear. You get going as fast as you can efficiently travel in one gear, and then you shift up to the next gear. If you try to shift too early, it’s far more work than you can handle. As you travel down the road, there’s nothing demanding that you work toward a higher gear. If you’re comfortable in your current gear and it’s getting you where you want to go and matches your commitment level, then stick to your current gear and be happy. Sometimes, though, you might find yourself in a situation where it just makes sense to shift to a higher gear. Go for it, and see how it goes.

The comparison to running mileage is fairly obvious. Don’t shift into higher-geared running until you’re ready for it; and, if you never want to be ready for it, fine, just stick to your current gear and enjoy yourself.

Now, regarding spinning plates. The comparison is similar, but the analogy has some slightly different implications. Living your life is a lot like spinning plates. You have obligations at home, and that’s one plate. You have obligations at work, that’s another plate. Going for daily exercise is another plate. A good diet. Spending time with your kids. A second daily workout. And so on. A lot of us get comfortable managing some number of plates — one or two plates. That’s fine, and that is where their comfort level is. Over time, you may find that you’re interested in adding another plate. You may find that an additional plate is manageable, or you may find that you have to drop one plate in place of the one you added. Whatever works for you is what you should do.

I think that analogy is relatively clear. There is a supposition baked in that “it’s better to spin more plates.” It is, but only because I’m assuming that each plate is one that you genuinely want to spin. If you find yourself spinning a plate you hate to spin, drop it. You don’t need unwanted crap in your life. Replace it with something that brings your life joy.

As a faithful reader, you already know that I’m finishing up my third week of half-marathon training today. Taking on that challenge was like taking on another spinning plate or shifting into a new gear. It’s been manageable, and thus fun. I’m really enjoying it. But I was already exercising a lot and running almost every day, so in terms of commitment, it hasn’t been all that much more than my previous status quo.

But committing to all this running has changed my diabetes management a little bit. I have to think through my meals a little more carefully. I have to make sure I’m eating enough, and taking the right insulin doses. Also, as I previously mentioned, the demands of my training regimen have altered the content of my diet. I can no longer seem to tolerate beer or spirits, and I can no longer seem to drink much more than a glass or two of wine with dinner. I drink a lot more water and a lot more tea. While this has been happening, I coincidentally ran out of diet soda and when I went to the grocery store, I simply opted for flavored soda water instead. My in-laws came for a visit, so we bought a ton of extra vegetables. All these factors came together all at the same time, and I suddenly find myself running 60 miles this week (!!!), drinking far less alcohol and diet soda than ever before, eating more vegetables.

Sometimes circumstances come together in such a way that it enables you to shift into a higher gear, or to spin more plates in your life. You don’t have to, but if you want to, it’s nice to be able to take advantage of some confluence of events that enables you to start doing a lot of new, productive things.

The trick isn’t so much in taking on new projects; the trick is in recognizing a good opportunity when you see one, and seizing it. If you notice your body rejecting beer, then take that opportunity to buy something else at the grocery store instead, and ditto soda. If you happen to notice that you have some extra time, why not get in an exit ra workout and see how it goes? Maybe you buy a new watch, like I did, and take on a new training regimen, like I did, just to find out how your watch works.

These are felicitous circumstances. Recognized them, and avail yourself of them. See how it goes. 

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