I’m very strong. I can squat all the way to the ground with 115kg loaded up on my back, I can bench press equal to my own body’s weight, and I can belt out a casual couple of chin-ups any time of day. And I can run pretty fast, when the mood takes me. I’m no powerlifter or professional sprinter – not by a long shot, but I have nothing to be ashamed of.
And here’s a novel thought: nobody has anything to be ashamed of.
Sunday through Tuesday I was a bit sick. I still have some vestiges of a cold. And today, for the first time in a week, I trained. I did five sets of squats and five sets of bench press, and after twenty minutes I was totally shagged. I called it a day.
All up, there wouldn’t have been much more than five minutes of actual work in the whole session.
And I’m pretty darn strong. And I don’t consider that to be a wasted session, not one bit.
Now – to the point: if you don’t last as long as you want, if you feel weak, if you’re not as fit as you think you should be (I’ll give this one a whole paragraph of its own, with bold letters and italics for extra emphasis, and an imaginary drum-roll to boot):
Don’t let it get you down.
Seriously. Abusive self talk may motivate you to train harder. You’re one of the few, but not necessarily an elite few - sorry to put it in writing. For everyone else, it’s fucking depressing.
The same method does not work for everybody.
And it’s juvenile to think otherwise.
This should be obvious to us all, if we’ve spent any time in the world doing stuff. If we rely only on one method, only one type of person will ever exercise, and elitism is not what training is supposed to be about. It’s supposed to be for everyone – accessible. Except that people who’ve “put in the hard yards” often don’t actually want fitness for everyone, they want to keep it only for themselves and remain better in their own eyes. On what does their sense of self-worth depend?
And they’ll still tell you you’ve got to train to be less fat. but anyway.
Even if talking shit to yourself does inspire you to hit it hard, I have serious reservations as to the usefulness of this approach for the long term. And isn’t exercise supposed to be about health and longevity?
I know what happens to me when I get caught up in negativity. And there are elements of this post that might sound a little snide, but I’m okay with that. When it runs away with me however, I start feeling like I should be better, stronger, training harder, and little by little, I find myself going to the gym less often. Because it only gets me down, and I don’t want to let myself down, so ironically – I don’t train. It grinds you down – negativity wears you out in a subtle way. You feel like you’re being good and disciplining yourself, so there’s a bit of an ego kick, but what’s actually going on? What’s actually helpful? I find myself automatically shying away from hard work, because as long as I stay well away from muscular fatigue and failure, I don’t feel like I’m failing. I do this because I don’t want to feel like I’m weak, because I’ve decided weak is a bad thing to be, and working hard will always take you to a point of fatigue, of weakness.
But when I focus on what I can do, not what I can’t – when I focus on what I enjoy, not what I don’t – then I don’t feel weak, I feel strong. Pushing failure in my work-outs doesn’t make me feel like a failure, it makes me feel like a success. It makes me feel like I’m achieving something – maybe like I’m overcoming something, but the results don’t actually matter. It’s not your results that make you healthier; the health benefits of exercise are not tied up in results, they exist in the process and only in the process. It’s not “being fit” that makes you healthy, it’s the exercise itself that you do.
And anyway, there’s one other thing to take away from all this: when someone tries to motivate you with verbal abuse, it reveals more about them than it does about you. That’s an old truth we all know, but somehow, we remain vulnerable to the shaming. Maybe if we stand up for ourselves more, rather than stay silent in secret agreement, we’ll become immune?
You could package up a negativity vaccine and sell it:
“Positive self-talk: it’s more pleasant and more practical”
All I keep coming back to is this: focus on what’s actually helpful, for you. If you absolutely cannot let go of the abusive self-talk, maybe you could just tell yourself off for talking shit to yourself? Because once you’ve been there, all you can really do is laugh.
Seriously – focus on what’s actually helpful. Odds are, it’ll be something that makes you feel good.