It started with an email from one of my gym chains, warning us instructor folk of the impending arrival of ‘Blue Monday’, a day which has been (scientifically dubiously) ‘scientifically proven’ to be the most depressing of year. I suspect the third Monday of January has excellent grounds for calling slander, and Dean Burnett has written what is probably its most entertaining defence over in the Guardian (his comparable ‘scientific equations’ are glorious for a giggle).
So. We were being asked to combat the effect of the Blue Monday phenomenon with… enhanced enthusiasm. The wearing of bright colours. To more cheerfully inflict acts of exercise on those brave souls who still made it to the gym. That sort of thing.
To be fair, instructors get quite a few emails from clubs asking us to dress up for this, help fund raise for that, encourage members to participate in whatever new initiative is going around. But every now and again you find an instructor who not only reads such emails but also runs with them, and then you end up with something like this turning up on your Facebook feed at a goddawful hour of the morning:
Cheerful Thursday! And why not? And check that girl’s waist! I used to dress for work like that. Then I got told to eat all the cake to put on weight and now it’s full length for me. Go Caitlin!
Now, offensively enthusiastic posts and pictures are normally my area of specialty, so I felt like I was behind in the game. Naturally, I had to respond in kind. Cheerful Thursday? I think YES.
This thing needed some momentum.
With tongue firmly in cheek, I warned my classes of the perils of Blue Monday, ordering them to turn up on Monday armed with joy, gratitude and an enthusiastic two fingered salute to the January blues*.
* If you’re reading this from the southern hemisphere, you’re probably wondering what this ‘January Blues’ is of which I speak. Well, you and your glorious summer can just stay smug while I take five minutes to pull on several layers of clothing and waterproofs every time I go outside…
Cheerful Thursday was quickly followed by call to arms to have a Fantastic Friday:
To my great surprise, two members at Hammertime caught me after class to assure me that if they did not turn up on Monday, I was not to worry. They would not have committed suicide under the weight of the January blues, all was well but there were places to be etc.
Interesting. My plan to defy Blue Monday seemed to be working. Certainly I was fulfilling the club’s request to raise people’s awareness of it – even if I was only perpetuating the urban myth with a healthy degree of cynicism. I began to wonder if the question was not so much whether people would turn up to class Monday, but would dare not to.
Blue Monday, as it turned out, actually dawned a White Monday, at least in London and much of England. Personally I think it’s damn hard to have a bad start to a day which begins by running about and snowballing your fellow bootcampers in the park – right?
At 7am on Blue Monday, Ravenscourt Park was not dark, but instead the surreal light that comes from lamp, star and ambient light reflected from snow.
That’s my guys to the left of the trees, practicing out their snow galloping. Proud. Also amused:
Glorious way to start the day, and with double combat and spin to come, there was no force in the universe that could ruin my day. The first combat admittedly slightly cripples me (currently lame, but not acting enough like it) but I manned up, donned my brightest blue and officially dubbed the day Amazing Monday**:
** NB in the interests of fair disclosure: taking these photos is MUCH harder than you might think, especially on an old iPhone without the reversal function. I won’t pretend these were the first I took, and that I didn’t look like a total knob doing it…
I scooted down to Hammertime, no more cheerful than normal (otherwise Beth might not be the only one wanting to punch me out) but certainly on a fair 11 from a scale of 1-10. And what did I find?
Two full classes. Rammed.
Blue Monday, you LOSE. We WON.
We worked hard. We committed lactic acid to our muscles, sweat to the studio floor, fought through fatigue and I almost committed an act of violence against the stereo when it skipped during key moments of both Death is the Road To Awe and Turbulence.
And we had a sensational time doing it.
No-one took the easy way out.
No-one gave any less than they had to give.
No-one let themselves down.
It was an Amazing Monday.
Which got me to thinking. About Blue Monday, and about life, about swings and roundabouts and peaks and plateaus. About how we can have these incredible highs in a day/week/year/life and still lose them in the lows.
I’m not saying a gym class is the biggest high around – for all that I love my job and what I can give to people, I sincerely hope it is not the absolute pinnacle of anyone’s week – but whatever it is that lifts you up, that sets your heart literally or metaphorically racing, sometimes it’s not enough. Or you find yourself addictively chasing those highs, because something else is missing.
…So I’m pondering. And then I found an answer, of sorts. Unless you’ve already had the pleasure, allow me to introduce you to Dax Moy. He’s a Personal Trainer, but he’s got the holistic approach in the bag and a lot of what he’s training is the brain. He is well worth stalking on Facebook and once of his recent rambles really rang true with a lot of people: this little (well, it’s Dax, he trumps even me on the rambling front, but what rambling!) video about self esteem, and how we so readily sabotage ourselves. See me here? Guilty as charged. Worth a listen.
So in the video, Dax explains that every time we make and break a promise to ourselves, we betray our self confidence. I make a lot of promises to myself and to my shame, I break far, far too many of them. I listened to that video going ‘Oh. OH. Oh shit. Oh. Oh ok. Right. Um.’
In the 3 days since I saw it, I’ve watched myself lie repeatedly. Never with ill intent. I just betray myself, continually, with breathtakingly unrealistic expectations. And the subconscious cynicism this kind of behaviour breeds is the noose around my neck.
So. With all that on my mind, and I spent the rest of Amazing Monday with Greg. I met him at SFX Weekender last year, dressed as Leia, he as Captain Hammer.
I still call him Captain Hammer (he is more polite and does not call me Hot Leia – at least, not to my face), but he’s more of a Doctor Who meets Superman hybrid, and ninja to boot. He is also is trying to get into space (you can vote for him here, and I’d love you to because that would also make him Captain Kirk).
We ran around the Science Museum in a state of child-like enthusiasm, and I learned a lot from the hours in his company. He’s one of the smartest people I know, and he doesn’t have a smart phone (the same goes for Iain, another genius over-achieving friend who lectures in theoretically physics at Oxford while being significantly younger than me. I’m starting to think there might be a connection between this and their terrifying productivity).
Amongst other things, Greg is an elite athlete competing for a place in the Commonwealth Games for cycling. The more we talked, the more I thought: this is someone who doesn’t lie to himself. He simply couldn’t do all the things he does, as well as he does, if he didn’t fully trust his capacity to carry them out. He might disagree with that, but I was seriously impressed.
So in the end, I learned three things this week. I think Dax perfectly revealed the foundation of the Blue Monday phenomenon – that day when the rush and hope of the holiday season is over, when you’ve made promises/resolutions to yourself which you realise you haven’t kept, and all the lies you have told yourself take their toll.
I realised why bootcamps and PT and exercise classes can be so empowering: because they are an hour of your day in which you’ve turned up to fulfil a promise you have made, and though you can still betray yourself by compromising your effort, you also have the chance to impress yourself with your commitment. You have a chance to fortify your self esteem against the toll of smaller, daily erosions.
Finally, I was inspired by Greg to be less of a liar to myself. He’s more ambitious than I, and achieving ten times what I manage. I believe that’s the armour that will stave off Blue Mondays in any week of any month of any year. Be realistic. Be true. Be awesome.
So, dear Blue Monday, I thank you. You have been an education. Let’s do it all again same time next year.