Motivation Monday: The self-compassion edition

At least I didn’t name this series “Monday Morning Motivation,” right? Thanks for your patience as I plowed through the to-do list items that had to come before this post.

My mea culpa for the late posting is kind of fitting, considering today’s topic—self-compassion.

This may initially seem like kind of an odd topic from someone who frequently writes about the joy of doing workouts that make me want to puke and die (thanks for that phrase, Katie—nothing else says it quite as well). But the more I read about self-compassion—the seemingly contradictory art of making youself stronger not by being harder on yourself, but by being nicer—the more I’m convinced it’s the single best thing a runner, a swimmer, a human, etc., can do for herself and her training.

Consider the intro of a recent New York Times Well blog piece on the subject:

“People who find it easy to be supportive and understanding to others, it turns out, often score surprisingly low on self-compassion tests, berating themselves for perceived failures like being overweight or not exercising.The research suggests that giving ourselves a break and accepting our imperfections may be the first step toward better health.”

Did anyone else cringe in self-recognition upon reading this? We who stand on the sidelines of marathons to cheer for our friends, and who shower those friends with praise and pride no matter what their finish times happen to be, are the same ones who look at our own splits mid-race and think: Ugh. Gotta pick up the pace. What’s that guy looking at? Probably how gross my thighs look in these shorts. Ugh.

The New York Times piece goes on to describe how most people “believe self-criticism is what keeps them in line. Most people have gotten it wrong because our culture says being hard on yourself is the way to be.”

Recognize yourself yet? How about this?

“Imagine your reaction to a child struggling in school or eating too much junk food. Many parents would offer support, like tutoring or making an effort to find healthful foods the child will enjoy. But when adults find themselves in a similar situation — struggling at work, or overeating and gaining weight — many fall into a cycle of self-criticism and negativity. That leaves them feeling even less motivated to change.”

Right. Telling yourself that you’re running too slow and will probably look fat in race photos is a real motivator.

Of course, this self-flagellation usually isn’t a conscious strategy so much as a bad habit we’d be happy to ditch if we were more self-aware. So last weekend, I tried doing just that—being aware of my internal chatter, and applying self-compassion. Here’s how it applied to a slow, sleepy, sore run on Sunday.

The run: 35 minutes in Black Hill Regional Park in northern Montgomery County.

How I felt: Exhausted. Hamstrings inexplicably sore.

What I was tempted to tell myself afterwards: You’re really thinking you can run a 15K in a few weeks? After 35 minutes leaves you rubbing sore spots and yearning for your couch? Gooood luck with that!

What I told myself instead: 35 minutes is way better than nothing! I didn’t plan for this to be a spectacular super-workout, anyway, and it’s not a bad idea to “save” my legs for the long run I do have planned later this week. There are lots of reasons I might be tired—I’ll just forget about it, and focus on my next run.

How I felt after: Super-freaking duper! Free to focus on how beautiful the run by Little Lake Seneca was, and how lucky I was to have two legs to propel me through a sunny forest of golden autumn leaves. Proud that I didn’t give up on a hard run.

Self-compassion helped me appreciate how lucky I was to run by this.

So yeah, it’s pretty effective. Try it yourself next time you feel like your subconscious may be in inner-jerkface mode, and see if you don’t feel more motivated for your next workout.

In other news: Last weekend, a story I wrote about the rise of student-entrepreneurship in a poor economy ran in Washington Post Magazine. Tomorrow, I’m going on NPR’s Tell Me More to talk about it! Tune in or stream it at 2 p.m. to hear me run my mouth.


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4 responses to “Motivation Monday: The self-compassion edition

  1. I really appreciate this post, and yes, I recognize myself in it. And other friends of mine. I’m going to share this. Thanks!

  2. Ann

    Nope, I am nothing like that. Yea, right. I totally see myself doing this. Its funny you made this the focus on this. I actaully did the same thing over the weekend. It definitely works. And in other news – NPR? Awesome!

  3. It’s so hard, because runners especially tend to be type A, OCD, driven determined folks – and that makes us our own worst critics. Thanks for sharing this – it’s a good reminder to trash those negative thoughts.

  4. Hi, This is universal to so many topics. It seems women in particular are hardest on themselves over their perceived shortcomings or expectations, no matter how infrequent they are. You gotta tell yourself, it’s ok! So glad Ann mentioned you 🙂

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