Examining habits: The Naked Face Project

Resetting the timer function on my watch, I started to do the math in my head. In order to swim my 400-yard repeats in the time allotted by my coach, exactly what did that break down for each 100? I had a general idea but then changed my mind. I didn’t need to know what my 100-yard splits needed to be. I wouldn’t be checking them anyway. I would be more focused on counting and making sure I did the proper number of laps (eight in the 25-yard pool if you’re scoring at home). And so, off I went.

On the first interval I finished, oh, 43 seconds faster than what was called for in my plan. Um, did I count wrong? Did they shorten the length of the lane? I decided to forget the doubts and just swim hard for No. 2. Off I went again, thinking strong and steady with an emphasis on the steady. The second interval was harder but felt smoother. I was 10 seconds slower than my first interval but  again, for those scoring at home, that’s 33 seconds faster than original plan.

This has happened before in the pool. I crush the times given to me by my coach. Oh, not every time, but lately more often than not, I’m working pretty darn hard and easily beating my times. What gives? Perhaps part of it is the way I perceive myself in the water. I’m not a swimmer, I would say over and over again in my first years of triathlon. Swimming is my weakness, was another favorite of mine along with I’m just not very good at swimming or the variation, I can swim but not very fast. There was no great incident to change that thinking but I did. Slowly over time I realized that thinking that way, even in sarcastic tones to friends, wasn’t getting me anywhere. It was just a habit, a habit of selling myself short. Now, I get in the water, focus on the task at hand, and give my best effort.  I think of myself as as swimmer now, regardless of what my 100-yard T-time is.

The topic of habits, and the stories we tell ourselves to perpetuate our habits, came to my mind this week when I stumbled upon The Naked Face Project.  Undertaken by Molly Barker, founder of Girls on the Run, and her friend Caitlin Boyle, founder of Operation Beautiful, the project is to go for 60 days without wearing makeup, high heels and dying and styling their hair, among other typical “beauty primping” habits. This is not some anti-beauty campaign. They’re not out to make a point. They just want to see what happens. They have no hypothesis or crusade. They want to see what happens when they take a conscious look at the habits they’ve formed around “fixing their faces.”

The Naked Face Project is likely to be very uncomfortable for us. Why? We’ve engaged in these Beauty Habits for so long and we know that changing up our habits and especially our mindsets around habits are always a bit unsettling. We feel like we’ve only approached feminine beauty in one way for our entire lives. What might reveal itself when we give ourselves the opportunity to experience another way?

I love The Naked Face project because they are examining their habits. We often do things out routine because they serve some sort of need for us. Molly and Caitlin are exploring their habits around beauty, what it means to be beautiful and in your own body, ideas which we often form without much thought. So in my habit of selling myself short, what possible need could I be serving? The one which doesn’t want to be crushed by disappointment, by falling short, but feelings of failure. If I’m not a swimmer, it’s OK if I’m last out of the water or slow in my intervals. If I start to think of myself as a swimmer though, new opportunities open up, not just in performance but in the quality of how I feel. Seeing myself as a swimmer has allowed me to gain different perspectives on my time in the pool, ones which I like better than protecting myself from disappointment.

What might happen if we change a habit that we’ve done for so long, as become such a part of who we are that we don’t even realize it is a habit? Forget the judgment of “good” or “bad” habits. What might you do different today, this week or this month? What might you try? You never know what you might discover when you open yourself and challenge your habits.

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