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How I broke with destructive rituals and habits, Part 1

As an athlete, rituals were particularly important to me. They helped me through rigorous training and especially through the stressful days of competitions full of challenges. They gave me support. It was almost meditative to pack my sports bag in the hotel room, to hear the same music on the way to the hall and to put on my leotard in the dressing room. The competition itself was then only a link in a chain of events.

Research has found that habits are a form of relaxation for the brain: everything happens as it should and as it always has – it doesn’t require any energy. But that’s exactly why they’re so hard to put aside, and that became a problem for me when I ended my career as an artistic gymnast. Because I quickly realised that many of my rituals and quirks were not suitable for everyday life beyond top-class sport.

As an athlete, I had learned to make the most of everything I did. I made the absolute most of my training, my nutrition, even my rest breaks. It was particularly extreme when it came to food: although I already loved pizza even then, I never connected eating pizza with enjoyment. On the contrary: in my twisted view, each piece was poison in dough form. Even if I had a pizza, I automatically calculated fat content and carbohydrates in my head – and then dragged a guilty conscience around with me for ages.

None of this ever made me happy, but for my success as an athlete it was probably worthwhile, at least in the short term. But when I was no longer that athlete, these thought and action patterns, which had been imprinted over the years, quickly became annoying remnants of my previous life that got in the way. I knew I had to learn to see a pizza through different eyes again. I had to be able to see it not quantitatively, but as something nice, good, positive, enjoyable.

How I managed to break with negative habits is quite a long story. That’s why I’ll tell you about it in my next two blog posts.


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