I’ve never really been a New Year, New Me kind of person. Celebrating New Year’s Day always felt a little random, as did the idea that an ambitious resolution could change something about my life in the middle of winter. I’ve always connected with winter as a necessary time of growth through rest, and I personally like to dedicate this season to maintaining good habits and getting plenty of sleep.
As I’ve grown older, even the societal pressure to name a goal, intention, or vision for the new calendar year has lessened.
Fast-forward six months, though, and you’ll find me in quite a different mood. Perhaps it’s the energy of a northern summer, brimming with life, warmth, and sunlight after months of darkness and snow. Maybe it’s my birthday, on July 1, pushing me, as birthdays do, to reckon with the past and look to what lies ahead.
Or it could be some combination of the two — the natural world and my interior world conspiring to irritate and energize me. What I know for sure is that as summer rolls around, the days seem endless and I feel restless, yearning to move.
For years, I didn’t have any outlets for my heightened energy; each summer I struggled with insomnia and a depressed mood. But as I discovered sports that I loved and my physical activity increased year-round, it became clear that I could harness this summertime energy for good.
Now, as the days stretch out and snow is a thing of the past, my activity levels peak almost organically: I want to walk, run, bicycle. I want to lift weights and try some outdoor boot camps. I want to paddleboard, hike, and take my virtual Zumba classes outside.
In other words, if I’m not working, I want to be moving my body, preferably outdoors. I want to feel as alive and vibrant as the world around me.
And as my activity increases, my mind jumps in to turn up the intensity by setting goals — specific and measurable goals, as I’ve been taught. Goals like performing 10,000 kettlebell swings in one month, running 100 miles in a month, completing a 27-mile through-hike, or logging 1,200 activity “points” each day on my smartwatch (twice my wintertime goal for what is essentially calories burned through exercise).
I love having something to reach for every day. And I love the feeling in my body and mind as I work toward and achieve my goals.
This is a fine line to walk. There are many rewards to my increased activity level, including improved overall fitness, sleep, confidence, and mood. But there is a cost, too: the risk that my positive mindset will evolve into something unhealthy, emphasizing goal-setting and achievement over everything else.
You see, even though I feel like I should know better, I still tend to fall into a common resolution trap — losing sight of the why behind my actions.
I’ve learned that as summer progresses, I tend to push myself to do more or perform better every day. I tend to ignore signs to pull back or rest. I tend to berate myself when my workouts don’t go as planned or I don’t hit a particular goal. I trick myself into believing I can maintain this level of activity not just all summer, but all year.
All these tendencies are common — it’s easy to get excited about progress and caught up in achievement. But if they disconnect me from my why, then can I really call it progress? If I don’t feel alive — if I don’t feel the vibrance I initially sought out — are my achievements sustainable?
In noticing these tendencies, I’ve learned from them. Now I am able to stop and ask myself: How do I want to feel? Is this activity helping me feel that way?
“How I feel” isn’t as specific or measurable as how fast I’m running, how much weight I’m lifting, or how my body composition is changing.
And “how I feel” isn’t a substitute for those goals. Rather it works with them, side by side, to help keep me accountable, consistent, inspired, adaptable, and connected to myself.
Fitness — like life — isn’t about choosing to feel good or perform well. I can get enjoyment from working hard, and I don’t have to suffer for my goals. Experience has taught me it’s possible to have both, if I keep both in mind.