Perhaps it’s just me, but January in Kingston upon Thames seems to be overflowing with sporty families all around me, doing sporty things as a collective. As I walk around the neighbourhood, taking the kids to the playground or park as we soak up the remaining few days of break, I seem to find large family-sized groups of people everywhere, engaged in all sorts of synchronised physical activities from pick-up games of football to full on boot camp-like calisthenics.
As someone who is not a competitive person by nature, sports as a concept was always a bit of a hard sell growing up. I tried for a little bit in middle school to be the cleats-wearing-shin-guard-toting kind, as it was what the popular kids did. Though I looked darn cute in my uniform (field hockey kilts and a high pony tail meant you WERE someone), I was terrible when it came to almost all of it. Field hockey was a wash. Though elected captain of my middle school swim team, I swam the longest races, of which I always finished dead last – probably because I actively stopped competing and started daydreaming about halfway through most of them (1600 meters is long!). Even the community softball league I participated in during the summer months was mostly just for the opportunity to be with friends whom I didn’t see otherwise and promise of ice cream or soda after the games. By high school I finally decided to abandon it all and focused on dance- both in and out of the water. I joined a synchronised swim team as well as a ballet company, and left the rest for those who got ramped up by smack talk and devising winning strategies and all the other things that seemed to go along with competitive sports.
As an adult, I’ve found it difficult to find engaging exercise that allows you to get lost in the movement, rather than the metrics of your exercise. As grown ups, we are expected to constantly measure our progress in all aspects of our lives, progression being the only goal. I must burn x number of calories, run y number of miles in fewer minutes each time etc. I must work hard to be promoted within a certain number of years. Accomplish more. I must always be thinking about how best to streamline my day so I can get more done. I must become a better version of myself each and every time I attempt whatever the activity. It’s no wonder so many of us are grappling with anxiety regularly; it’s like stepping up to the starting line of a race every time we attempt to do anything at all; and double that pressure when we attempt something new, something we are probably going to be terrible at doing.
It’s hard not to get caught up in the constant goal setting and seeking, especially at the New Year. On the contrary to all of this productivity, it seems to me the activities we all enjoy the most, no matter our age, are the ones which allow us to be totally present in the moment, rather than concerned with measuring it. The activities that free us from ourselves (dancing, cooking, reading, playing etc.).
Whilst this is the time of year where we are encouraged to buckle down, setting goals to be met, accomplishments to achieve, alongside that list, I also intend to also carve out a bit of intentional space do the opposite. As someone prone to list keeping and progress measuring, constantly attempting to be better and do better, this year my “resolution” is to do a few things simply for the pleasure of doing them. Run slowly (as if I had another option), not for cardio health or improved fitness, but for the opportunity to stare up at the trees and feel the cold air on my face. Knit imprecisely for the excitement of seeing what interesting textures my busy hands can produce and the pleasure of choosing which beautifully coloured ball of yard to likely mess up; to do a few choice activities terribly, but full of joyful abandon. To fully experience what I will remind myself is JONP: joy of not progressing.