In my last running-related post, I began untangling perfectionism as it impacts my health journey, and I shared some of the things I have learned to do that counter my perfectionistic tendencies. Today, I’d like to deep dive into that perfectionism a little more by exploring what the coaches at The OmniFit call mental chatter. In my therapist circles, we tend to call it the “inner critic”. Personally, I call her my inner Crazy Lady. Of all of them, I prefer the term mental chatter the most, because it brings to mind an enormous canopy of trees filled with chattering chimpanzees. I feel like this description most closely resembles the true goings on of my mind.
I have noticed over the past 2 weeks that as the miles have gotten longer, the mental chatter has grown louder and more frequent. As the normal aches and pains begin to set in, I catch myself saying things in my head like “I’m dying!”, “my legs are getting tired!”, and “why am I doing this to myself?!”. All of the articles I’ve read from running magazines have warned about this and offered suggestions for thoughts to use instead of the negative ones. I’ve attempted to integrate some of them into my thoughts when I hit a tough spot in a run. The process has looked something like this:
Me-in-pain: Omg, I’m only at ___ miles and I still have ____ many to go. I don’t know if I’m going to make it!
Trying-to-be-positive Me: Ok, no, I can’t think like that. Look! I’ve already done ___ miles! I’m doing great!
Me-in-pain: You’re a lying liar who lies. I’m not doing great! I’m hanging on by a thread! I red-faced, already-sweated-through-my-shirt-AND-my-shorts-thread!
Trying-to-be-positive Me: Ok, FINE. Yes, We’re a hot mess, and we’ve hit a hard place. What about just keeping the legs moving? They’ll eventually go numb. Can we just do that?
Me-in-pain: Fine. Bring on the numbness.
Trying-to-be-positive Me: FINE
As you can see, this has been an uphill battle so far. It’s more like a hostage negotiation with my inner Crazy Lady than a lovely and tranquil exercise in mindfulness.
In the Transformation Blueprint course, the coaches at The OmniFit offered several preventative measures to overcoming negative mental talk. They are really very simple and pretty much common sense, but they are so often overlooked. The first suggestions was writing down your goals and keeping them where you can see them every day. I know this concept and know that it works. Have I been doing it? No. Am I doing it now? Kind of. I do look at my training goals a few times a week, mostly for scheduling purposes. In preparing for this week, I did spend a little more time evaluating the goals for the week, checking the goals against reality and my expectations, and ultimately deciding to adjusting a few things. This proved to be successful today during my first run of the week, as I was able to hit a goal that I’d been struggling with for a few weeks, and the inner Crazy Lady never showed up to rain on the parade.
The second suggestion was to look at the quantity and quality of sleep. Listen friends, nothing sends the inner Crazy Lady on a rampage like sleep deprivation. This is just something that has been true about me since the day I was born. Anyone who shared a cabin with me at sleep away camp can attest to this, and I apologize for the shoes I threw when I was tired and you wouldn’t be quiet. I have cultivated a good sleep routine over the past several years, and even so, I’ve had a few rough nights recently. In hindsight, I recognize that since there wasn’t really anything else I could do about the sleep issue, adjusting my goals for the run would have been the next thing to try. Instead, I tried to push through with the original plan, and it backfired a bit. Lesson learned.
The final suggestion was to keep it fun. This was such a novel idea to me in the beginning. My perfectionism was confused by the concept of “fun” in “working out”. It’s working out, so it’s supposed to be work, right? Work is right there in the name, and work is not “supposed” to be fun. Sigh, what a depressing view of life, right? This is a perfect example of why perfectionists need recovery: to challenge the idea that work is supposed to be “feel bad” and can never be fun. Honestly, writing about running and what I’m learning through running and working with nutrition coaches is one of the main things that keeps it fun for me. The other is the excuse to explore new music and indulge in pop workout mixes. I have a playlist going for both long runs and shorter, faster runs. Having new music on a playlist gives me something to look forward to and adds something new to the repetitive nature of a training schedule.
On a surface level, it sure looks like it takes a lot to keep the inner Crazy Lady at bay. In actuality, though, it looks more like meeting my very real needs for sleep, a decent meal, plenty of water, a little bit of fun, and some attainable goals that I can chase after and achieve. I think as a culture, we often fail to see success as legitimate need, and therefore, dangle it just out of reach for ourselves as well as for others. This phenomena really becomes obvious when you have come to the end of everything you can do to achieve something and still find yourself coming up short, much like my dilemma with sleep this week. Just as I found success by adjusting my goals, I’d like to encourage everyone to allow yourself some success by moving the bar closer when you need to. Every major success is preceded by a long series of small successes. You don’t have to count everything that doesn’t work out perfectly as a failure. Simply adjust to what is actually possible for you right now.
So, go ahead, move that bar to something attainable, and blow that goal out of the water. I’d love to hear about it! I’d also like to know what you do to keep training interesting and fun. Song suggestions are always appreciated, as well.