Last August, as I was lying in a hospital bed, I made a promise. It was a promise to my kidneys following a grueling ordeal I’d just put them through — the 100-mile run that’s part of our Leadville Race Series. (You can read more about that in my November column from last year, “Race-Brain Retrospective.”
During the race, my kidneys had taken a beating and, according to my doctors, had endured enough damage that there was some possibility they might not completely recover.
So, like many people who unexpectedly find themselves in hospital beds, I did a little bargaining. I said, “Look, kidneys, if you’ll agree to heal completely and come back with 100 percent function, I promise I’ll be good to you from now on. I’ll never pull another stunt like this, I swear, and I’ll always treat you with the respect you deserve.”
Fortunately for me, my kidneys were the forgiving type, and apparently agreed to the bargain, because they did come back 100 percent. And, true to my word, I have complied with my promise. I have kept up my athletic activities, including challenging endurance events like the Leadville mountain-bike race, but I have not attempted anything like that 100-mile run, which, in retrospect, was a less-than-wise goal for me to pursue, given my level of training and experience at the time.
Over the past year, I’ve also been managing my stress, and I’ve been especially careful about what I put in my body, eating lots of nourishing foods and avoiding toxins, alcohol and common over-the-counter medications that might put an unnecessary burden on my organs. Today, as a result, I feel better than I ever have.
Even though my kidneys are now perfectly healthy, I still feel a sense of duty (combined with a deep sense of gratitude) that keeps me complying with my original promise to treat them with care and appreciation. The promise extends not just to my kidneys, of course, but to my whole body, and ultimately to my whole self.
Coming from a type-A, hard-driving personality like me, this promise of self-care might seem a little soft around the edges. It might even come off as a little selfish. But one thing I realized during my brief-but-clarifying stint in a hospital bed is that unless I am operating at 100 percent, I can’t really show up 100 percent for my family, friends and colleagues. I can’t hammer away at my larger personal and professional goals with anything like the intensity I normally would.
If any part of me is depleted or over-stressed, even temporarily, it limits my capacity. It holds me back from working and playing at the level I normally do. It blunts the impacts of my intentions and contributions in ways that leave me incredibly frustrated.
What I’ve come to accept is that if I want to live at full throttle (which I do), I have to be willing to do the things that empower me to live at full throttle. And ironically, that includes slowing down and backing off now and then, and noticing the signals my body is giving me that it’s running out of steam. It includes the kind of daily maintenance and self- monitoring that’s easy to forgo in the rush to accomplish and achieve more.
With 2012 drawing to a close, it’s a great time to review the year behind us and to consider honestly whether the way we’ve been living is as healthy, conscious and sustainable as we’d like. It’s an ideal time to take stock of where we’ve been treating ourselves with respect and care, and where we’ve been draining or driving ourselves with diminishing returns.
I urge you to consider, in particular, how you are showing up in your own life, and whether, with a little more attention to self-care, you might be able to amplify your capacity, focus and energy for others.
Is there a promise your mind-body wants to hear from you? Are there simple needs or urgent signals you’ve been ignoring for too long? This is the time to heed them so you can go into 2013 with all the strength, passion and enthusiasm the coming year deserves.