On 22nd January 2019, it snowed for the first time in Cambridgeshire that winter. Being the big kid that I am, I would normally stand outside revelling in this magical meteorological phenomenon. But this time as the huge flakes fell – seriously, they were huge – I felt my stomach knot with anxiety.

It was 4pm and our first Frailty Prevention event was due to start at 6pm. I couldn’t believe it. “What else could go wrong?”, I thought. The day was a scramble after being let down by the printing delivery service (I had to go to a local printer to get our pamphlets done swiftly), and then hearing at 2pm that a partner in the event was sick and could not bring the equipment we needed to offer brief functional assessments, meant I had to drive a 45-mile round trip to collect.

Our audience demographic was predominantly over 60-year-olds and the snow created a health and safety nightmare. I worried that no one would show up. Nonetheless, we prepared our local village hall and waited.

The evening was a great success in the end. The hall wasn’t packed but we had over 50 guests who were able to learn a little more about what could be done to avoid frailty in later life.

After everyone received a brief assessment of their balance, strength and flexibility, my wife, Sara, and I delivered a talk on the traits of frailty and the challenges of remaining functionally fit.

Some information that Sara delivered that evening and a number of other times since has significantly influenced my thinking around personal growth. Using a diagram from a physio book – see below, she discussed the principle of Capacity Vs Demand.

Capacity represents what we can currently do, what we are currently capable of. As we age, our capacity can diminish. For example, being able to reach, twist and bend is something we don’t even think about in our 20s but in our 70s those simple movements can become difficult.

Similarly, there are other areas of our capacity which are healthy to consider as we age such as our cognitive capacity and our overall vitality, our engagement in life. 

Demand represents the aspects of life where we are pressed to perform. For example, if you live in a 3rd floor flat with no elevator, the demand on your physiology will be greater than if you live in a bungalow. If you own your own house, you may need to clear the gutters on your house each year by climbing ladders – that would be a demand on your balance strength and flexibility.

If your capacity is greater than your demands, you are safe, there is little chance of injury.

If the demands on you are greater than your capacity, you are unsafe and at risk of injury.

As we age, an inevitable loss of capacity can leave us in scenarios which create risk, even danger.

The equation goes something like this:

If your capacity is greater than your demands, you are safe, there is little chance of injury.

If the demands on you are greater than your capacity, you are unsafe and at risk of injury.

Therefore, being aware of what your current capacity is and what the demands on you are is important.

As we have studied the subject of frailty, I have been amazed by how adaptable and remarkable the human system is. A person can slip from being non-frail to pre-frail to frail through something as simple as a fall. What has inspired me is that the process is reversible. A person can go from being frail to pre-frail to non-frail too.

There is a dynamic quality to our capacity i.e. what we are capable of can grow and shrink back. Our bodies and minds are in a constant state of flux.

As we have delivered a number of these Frailty Prevention events, I have realised that in order to ensure the flux, the change is going in a healthy direction, we have got to push ourselves to the edge of our capacity. It must be done with consideration and care, lest it leads to injury, but it needs to be done for our capacity to develop or even be maintained.

So, what area of your current capacity are you not satisfied with? What area of life do you want to grow in?

Figure out how you can push yourself to the edge of your capacity in order to see improvement. Maybe it’s a relationship and listening more, maybe it’s your health and eating better, maybe it’s your career or study.

For me, one of the areas I am pushing myself in is writing. I want to be a better writer. So I have decided to post something on my blog each day. Even if what I write is pants, I will have the discipline to write each day.

Today, I have spent the day in bed after getting a Covid-19 test this morning. My son tested positive a couple of days ago and the family has been isolating. I feel lousy, my head and body ache but my breathing is good, and my oxygen sats are good, so I’m not concerned. However, I was really tempted to not bother and stay under my duvet. I’m so glad I didn’t. Often, growth is about regularly and intentionally reaching the edge of our capacity and creating a habit of it. This post is an example of that for me.

At the edge of our capacity, it is often uncomfortable and difficult but those two things are necessary elements of growth. So too is failure, not catastrophic failure, which leads to injury, but micro-failure which leads to learning. Failure will happen when we stretch ourselves and getting comfortable with it is important but the manner of the failure is important too. Pushing to quickly and too hard isn’t healthy, so be gentle with yourself as you explore the edges of your performance envelope.

This year, I also decided to exercise for at least 10 minutes per day. Thankfully that can include stretching, I’m not up for a muscle workout. Once I have posted this, that’s what I’ll be doing:)

I have a lot more to write about this and I’m excited to share it. Tomorrow I will write about the part of failure in personal growth.

Thanks for reading.

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