Steph’s note: Please welcome Courtney Townley of Grace and Grit to the blog. Recently I had a chance to appear on Courtney’s podcast, and we gelled so well that I couldn’t wait to have her share some of her perspective on health and life here. Take it away, Courtney.
Years ago I binged watched the HBO series Weeds, and now anytime I witness conformity the theme song from that show plays (albeit annoyingly) in my head:
“Little boxes on the hillside
Little boxes made of ticky-tacky
Little boxes on the hillside
Little boxes all the same
There’s a pink one and a green one And a blue one and a yellow one
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky And they all look just the same.”
As someone who has traveled through the fitness and wellness industry for more than 20 years, I have witnessed a lot of conformity (and believe me I have done my fair share of conforming): to diets, to exercise programs, to a particular look, to beliefs about what defines a healthy woman.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines conformity as:
- Compliance with standards, rules, or laws.
- Behavior that follows the usual standards that are expected by a group or society.
Conforming isn’t ALL bad, of course. It makes you feel like you are a part of something bigger than yourself and accepted by a community, which ultimately, can inspire you to do better, develop new skills and garner support.
The Challenge With Conformity
The challenge with conformity, however, is that it puts you in a box with a clearly defined label to help other people understand you, but eventually starts to dilute your understanding of yourself.
Conformity encourages you to abide by someone else’s rules and regulations, which, can rob you of your critical thinking skills, dampen your ability to make the best choices for yourself and cage your desire to play and explore possibilities for your life that stretch beyond the parameters of “the norm.”
In other words, conformity can eventually make life stagnant and stagnant places are where thing go to die not to grow.
Deep health, I have come to believe, is a process of growth; a process of being able to expand yourself based on your understanding of yourself. Boxes don’t allow for expansion and the simple truth is this: there is no box big enough for my expansion or yours.
Constantly looking for outside validation and direction to foster inner strength and health is a misaligned endeavor. Many “instruction manuals” have been written…
…but NOT ONE has been written specific to the needs of YOUR health and YOUR happiness, because the only person who can author that one is YOU.
And, look, I get it…
It is easier to have someone tell you exactly what to do all the time: what to eat, how to move, which meditation to do, how much sleep to get, etc.
And I am not trying to diminish the tremendous benefit of coaches, trainers and processes that can make the road to health a bit straighter, but at the end of the day…
The depth of your health is really dependent on the depth of your relationship with YOURSELF.
YOU are the only person who knows if you doing something because it is truly enhancing your life, or because you are just really comfortable settling into the standards of the circles you travel in.
YOU are the only person who knows if the things you were doing 5, 10 or 20 years ago to elevate your health are in line with this stage of your life.
YOU are the only person who really knows if your body, mind and soul are being nourished or depleted by your lifestyle choices.
YOU are the only person who knows how happy and fulfilled you truly are.
Over the past decade of coaching women to reclaim their health and happiness, one of the most common obstacles I see women bumping up against is that they chase so much outside perspective on what they should be doing that they forget to go inside and fetch their own insight.
4 Ways to Find Deep Health
1. NEVER STOP ASKING QUESTIONS
Be relentless, like a child, never ceasing to ask yourself and others, “Why? Why? WHY?”
Why do you train the way you do?
Why do you take the supplements you do? Why do you eat the way you eat?
Why do you believe what you believe?
I have found that the answer to many of these questions for the women I have coached is a product of conditioning by someone. Somewhere along the line someone told them the behavior was what they “should” be doing. And yet, many women never pause to ask themselves the most important questions:
Based on what I want to do, feel and be in the world, why is this a sensible path for ME?
2. STOP BEING A DICTATOR
Dictating is often a result of a belief system so strong, you literally tell someone to do something without asking the other person how they feel about it and without considering how it will affect them. Dictating is NOT communicating.
You want a lot from your body: you want it to perform well, look great, and feel amazing. So, you make a few changes to your diet and exercise program and DEMAND that it changes in the ways you expect (because it worked for someone else), and in the time frame you set (which, let’s face it, is often unrealistic).
True health, however, is a give and take relationship. It is so easy to hyper-focus what you want from your body, that it is really easy to forget to ask what it needs from you.
Meal plans, exercise systems, supplements and the like can absolutely SUPPORT your journey, but please don’t follow with blind faith and EVER stop communicating with YOUR body.
Great relationships are built over time through copious communication.
3. STAY HUNGRY
A healthy metabolism, I teach my clients, is one that signals you to eat often. Hunger is not a bad thing in a healthy body… quite the contrary. Hunger is the sign of systems running smoothly and simply needing more FUEL to keep you happy and performing well.
I believe the same is true of anything in life.
When you learn new skills and start feeling more confident it is totally normal to be “hungry” for more fuel. Yet, so often people restrict themselves with the most nutrient dense forms of fuel, like play and exploration, because they have conformed to a system or community that doesn’t really do “that”.
The Pilates student refuses to take an Olympic lifting class.
The Crossfit enthusiast ignores the itch to take a dance class.
The older athlete stands firm in their belief that Parkour is solely a young person’s sport.
Health should make you feel like there are more opportunities available to you, not less.
The best way to increase your hunger for life is to develop MORE skills. Which basically means: do more of what you suck at.
4. FIND YOUR PEOPLE
Find the people who understand the desire you have for change, who can help make that change possible, hold your feet to the fire to do the work, and give you a hand when you trip over your own two feet (which, if you are with the right people, will happen often and much).
Find people who understand your thirst, see your possibility and who have traveled a few miles further down the path than you have. Be willing to be the least educated and most unskilled person in the room.
Find the people who, above all, are committed to your expansion, whatever that means for YOU and regardless of what that means to THEM.