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I’ve been thinking a lot about ‘hard-wiring’.
Sometimes we have such profound experiences that they become embedded in our psyche, thereafter changing the way we process the world. The odd thing is, we don’t really know when we are having those experiences. They might seem quite trivial at the time; not necessarily something that makes us say, “Wow. That was harsh/life-changing/raw. I’ll never forget that, as long as I live.”
If we were aware of the things that change us, we’d have a lot more control over our future behaviour. We’d be able to differentiate between the things we do deliberately, and the things we do subconsciously - utterly unaware of the series of events that laid down steel roots in our brains and now dictates everything we say and do.
I know I over-think everything, therefore I expected to be more clued up about my subconscious directives, almost smug because *I know that what I’m doing is stupid, but at least I know WHY I’m doing it…*
Turns out, I don’t know why.
About 5 years ago, I met an amazing woman who has become one of my best friends. She wasn’t really like anybody else I knew. One of the first things she told me about herself was her ‘love of the gym’. The translator installed in my brain glitched momentarily, and then intoned robotically, “I. Do. Not. Understand…The. Words. ‘Love.’ And. ‘Gym’. Have. Been. Used. In. the. Same. Sentence.”
Looking back now, I can see that I instantly started to reject the notion that we might be friends. The hard-wiring in my brain told me that I’m not a ‘gym person’, that it was a sure sign we would have nothing in common, and that she probably wouldn’t like me anyway, once she found out what a frumpy, lazy potato I was. I don’t think I even owned a pair of trainers. I would have felt like a fraud, buying trainers. In fact, I was convinced that walking into a sportswear shop would set off the alarms; that the sales staff would apprehend me, look me up and down with hostile eyes, and tell me that I had no right to be there.
Stupid. And yet it was a real fear…buried deep, where superficial analysis couldn’t reach.
Now that I’ve had five years of experience, and have managed to completely crash the hard-wiring, and reprogramme from scratch, I can tell you exactly why I’d developed the way I did.
Secondary school was a challenge for me. I played three instruments, I had Grade 8 piano at 14 years old, I was pretty good at most subjects (apart from PE), was popular with the teachers, had high levels of emotional intelligence and sensitivity, and looked neat, tidy and middle-class. And those are all the reasons I found secondary school difficult. Those things buy you absolutely zero street-cred at school. In fact, you get minus points. The only thing that counted was being good at sport. And I was not good at sport!
I never seemed to know the rules of netball or football or hockey. Were English people born with the knowledge lodged in their genetic makeup?? Sometimes I thought maybe they were.
Long distance running made me feel like I was dying – DYING, I TELL YOU – within the first 30 seconds. ‘Ah’ – I hear you say – ‘That’s because you aren’t an ectomorph. You have short twitch muscle for brief bursts of power.’
Nope. My 100 m PB was 20 seconds. For the love of god.
I remember running that 20 seconds. We had to go in groups of 3 or 4, and I was absolutely dreading it. Proper ‘sweating, dizzy, panic- attack’ dreading it.
When the whistle blew, it all went into slow motion. Except, after a few seconds, I realised with horror that it was only ME in slow motion. The other 3 girls had raced off, while I was churning laboriously through treacle. My muscles let me down so badly that day that I never tried running again. I was already hard-wired, for many reasons, to believe that failure was worse than death, so instead of trying again and again until I improved my time, I built a Trump-esque wall around running and all things athletic, locked the door and threw away the key.
In fact, I put MYSELF in a box. I regret being that person. I wish I’d had more resilience. I wish I could have had the confidence to say, “Yup, that was crap…but I’m not settling for that. I’m going to challenge myself.” School life could have been very different.
Shortly after our first meeting, my new friend and I manned a stall at the school Christmas Fayre together. As the hall filled up, it got very warm and stuffy, and she stood up and pulled her jumper off, revealing a black sleeveless top. When I got my first good look at her physique, I had a revelation.
I’d wanted to be thinner for all of my adult life. Thinner, lighter, skinnier. But suddenly, I realised I wanted to look like her – smoothly muscled and strong. I had no idea that strength could look so powerful, feminine and attractive. Being ‘thin’ seemed irrelevant.
Shortly after that experience, she suggested that I teach her to dance in exchange for personal training sessions at the gym. And I agreed.
I’d love to say that, five years later, I’m an absolute butt-kicking, ripped, fitness goddess – Tomb Raider style - but that would be a lie. However, something fundamental has changed. Because she looked at me and made no judgements whatsoever. Because she gave me support and the courage to push myself way out of my comfort zone. Because the process gave me permission to change my hard-wiring.
My first fitness session with her is a hilarious tale for another day. We trained quite often together until I felt confident about being by myself; until I knew what all the machines did; until I lost my fear of the weights and of sweating like a pig. These days I get up at 6.30am twice a week to go to Crossfit at 7am.
He he. Even now, I look at that last sentence and cannot believe that I wrote it. I’ve been doing Crossfit since last May. It’s not just brilliant, varied, sociable and hugely challenging… It has shown me that the things I believed were impossible are nothing of the sort.
And the most powerful revelation of all: If I’d been hard-wired to fail at this, how many other things am I capable of achieving that I don’t even know about yet??