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The Voice

Whenever I’m running or doing some sort of exercise, I have an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. Both are shouting at me, telling me all about how my exercise session should be going. The problem is, I’m deaf in one ear, and no matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to remember which ear it is.

~Wimpy Girl

Haruki Marakami wrote a wonderful book called What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: A Memoir. It is one of the first books I read when I decided to become a runner. Marakami, who owned a jazz bar and was a chain smoker, decided, in his thirties, to take up running to keep fit. The book is funny as well as sobering, and Maruakami masterfully allows his readers to enter his head as he trained for the New York Marathon. It’s a great book for all runners and serious fitness enthusiasts, or anyone who is trying something new. If you get a chance to read it, you won’t be sorry.

So, I’ve never run a marathon, but I do struggle to control the negative thoughts (the devil voice) every time I lace up my exercise shoes. And, I’ve done this long enough to know that the difference between a good workout and a bad one starts inside your head. Your body, frankly, is going to take direction from your brain and can do a lot more than your brain will tell you that it can. If your favorite exercise is group competition (tennis, football, baseball, basketball, etc.), lucky you. During this type of activity, your brain is involved in strategizing about the game. It’s got something to do, a purpose. But, during any type of solo exercise session (running, working out at the gym, cycling, etc.), your brain has a heyday with a lot of time to tell you all the reasons you shouldn’t be exercising.

Here are a few “nuggets” that roll around in my noggin when I work out:

“I’m too old…I’m too fat…My body doesn’t move that way…I look dumb…There are so many other things I should be doing…I haven’t a clue how to use this machine…I think I’m lost…Everyone is looking at me and judging me…It’s too cold…It’s too hot…yadda…yadda…yadda.”

Sound familiar?

The bad news is, these thoughts always seem to gravitate to my good ear. The good news is that they can be controlled. Here are a few things that have worked for me:

Give your brain something else to do.

I listen to audiobooks when I work out at the gym. I’ve tried listening to a book when I’m running, but it never works. I get all absorbed in the book and get lost. Music is better for running for me.

Paula Radcliffe, a British gold medal distance runner, suffers with negative thoughts when she is racing. Remember, headphones and personal coaches are not allowed during high levels of competition. Paula’s solution is to count. She starts at one and keeps going until she finishes the race. The extra brain exercise is just enough to keep her from falling down the rabbit hole of negative thoughts.

Break it up.

If the distance or the amount of time you spend on one activity or exercise seems overwhelming, try focusing on smaller segments. If I’m running or walking a place I’ve been before, I hone in on a specific item along the path.

Wimpy Girl brain talk:
“If I can just make it to that big tree, I’m almost done,” or at the gym, “If I can do five more minutes on this bike, I’ve got this.”

Generally, I think I’m Wonder Woman at the beginning of any run or workout session. I know this and make it work for me. No matter how far you venture out on a run, you always have to get back to your starting place, right?. So if you push a little bit further at the beginning, your body has no choice, but to comply and get you back home.

Become a standup comedian.

If you are a slow runner, like me, try to set a record for the slowest time.

Wimpy Girl brain talk: “I’m slower than a turtle walking backwards…Slower than an old man in the fast lane…the sloths at the DMV in Zootopia…a slug on valium…”

You get the idea. Give your brain permission to entertain yourself, and, remember that no matter how slow you really are, you are still beating all the folks that are home sitting on their butts.

Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful.

If you follow the Wimpy Girl blog, you have probably figured out that I love to read. Gone With The Wind is one of my all time favorite books. When I feel like everyone else on the trail or at the gym looks better and performs better than me, I think about Scarlett O’Hara. Margaret Mitchell tells us, in the first sentence of the book, “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm…”

Wimpy Girl Brain Talk: “Wimpy Girl is not an athlete, and really not a runner, but she’s so confident that people often mistake her for Flo-Jo.” (I know that one is a stretch, but hey, whatever works!)

The Finish Line

On average, a person thinks at least 10,000 thoughts per day! Out of these 10,000, almost 80% of thoughts are negative. Sad huh?

We all have that jerk devil voice that just loves to tell us that we suck, but once we acknowledge that it is there, with these few simple strategies you can strip it of power and get to…THE FINISH LINE.

It’s like childbirth. The rhapsodic high that you feel afterwards is sublime. And, the best part is that at the end, the angel voice gets a standing ovation and sometimes does a few encores.

With your good ear pointed toward the positive, you’ve got this Wimpy Girl.

And, just so you know, you are so worth it!

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”

~Haruki Marakami


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This work by Anel “Pookie” Ryan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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