“Be careful how you are talking to yourself because you are listening.” ~Lisa M. Hayes
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had a laser-sharp focus on achieving “success.” From the outside, it looks like I’m pretty close to it, too. But on the inside, I wasn’t allowing myself to acknowledge any of it.
I never gave myself the chance to feel like I was doing something right. I started to think that the only way to ensure I keep growing, improving, and achieving was to stop allowing myself to experience the little victories completely. Satisfaction became a dangerous word.
My self-talk turned into “Okay, that was decent, but you can do better…” or “Alright, that’s over, and you need to focus on this now…”
I was giving myself no time to congratulate myself or realize my competence, and this mindset was draining.
In his book The Charge, Brendon Burchard wrote “if we don’t recognize what we’ve accomplished in life—even the small things—then we never feel accomplished.”
I can confirm this from personal experience.
When I was sixteen, I won a national track race in the 800m. When I look back at it, I realize how incredible of an accomplishment that was, and I’m proud of myself. But, in that moment, when I crossed the finish line first, I didn’t feel that amazing feeling of success that I had dreamed of. Don’t get me wrong, I was fully aware of what I had just done and how impressive it was, but the spark wasn’t there.
And that’s because I had dulled it. I hadn’t allowed it to have a voice, so it stopped talking. Instead, the voice that I was giving all the power to was my inner critic, and she definitely was not helping.
Not only was my inner critic present when I was achieving great things, but she practically took over when life was going downhill. After my successful track season, I was determined to reach my wildest goals and dreams in the next one. However, my perfectly defined plan got destroyed when I experienced my first real injury.
One week of disappointment turned into six weeks of agony. I couldn’t run, and I felt myself getting more and more out of shape every day. I was panicking, and my happiness disintegrated.
But I don’t even think that was the hardest part. I was severely mentally tested when I finally did get to train again.
I was so behind, and I was getting my butt kicked in every workout. My previous joy of crushing workouts was now replaced with merely trying to survive. I quickly realized that I couldn’t place my happiness in reaching goal times and slaying 400 repeats—I had to find something else to fuel my fire.
And I found it in gratefulness.
Instead of worrying about embarrassing myself in the next workout, I focused on this: I’m grateful I’m healthy, I’m grateful I get to do it, and I’m grateful that I get to experience the beautiful burn of getting in better shape.
Screw the outcome; I’m grateful for the process.
I wish I could say that I had an awesome track season, but I didn’t. I felt like I was getting thrown on the ground, kicked in the head, allowed to get back up, and then thrown down again.
I went back to the national meet and didn’t place anywhere close to where I had the previous year, got beat by people I knew I should’ve beaten, and got rejected from multiple colleges I was hoping to run at.
But, throughout this dark time, I found something that I had previously covered up and thrown in a dusty corner of my brain: my inner cheerleader.
Yes, I got beat badly at the national meet, but I ran with guts. Yes, my body was not in peak fitness, but I believed I would eventually get there. My inner cheerleader started to experience greater strength as I allowed myself to remember my little victories, and as she came to power, my inner critic began to weaken.
When it came time to prepare for track again, I decided that things were going to be different. I was done being stressed, worried, nervous, unhappy… I was going to run because I loved to run.
The focus was on gratitude. Yes, I was going to go for my goal times in workouts, but if I worked hard and didn’t hit them, it was okay. I was grateful I got to run.
Yes, I was going to put lots of emphasis on getting an adequate amount of sleep, but if I had to stay up later one night to finish a paper, I wasn’t going to beat myself up. I was grateful that I had the work ethic and motivation to do my paper.
In his book How Bad Do You Want It? Mark Fitzgerald wrote “‘Gratitude’ is about letting go of desired outcomes and fully embracing the privilege and process of pursuing goals and dreams.”
This mindset has not only helped me to regain that spark I had been missing, but it’s given me better results. I record all my workouts in a training journal, and ten times out of ten, my best workouts come from the ones when I am grateful and focused on the process, and not trying to force myself to hit certain times.
Even though I’ve made leaps and bounds, it’s a battle every day. And that’s okay, because all worthwhile things require a battle. When I do crush a workout, I find myself wanting to return back to my super-intense, outcome-focused, controlling mindset.
And sometimes I slip up and get consumed by my inner critic, but I always come back to my inner cheerleader once I realize I’m sucking all the fun out of my life. It’s an ongoing process, but it is one that I’m willing and excited to go through.
Turning off your inner critic can help everyone; if you want to succeed in life, giving power to your inner cheerleader will send you in the right direction. Here are three ways to get started:
1. Take out a piece of paper and a pen. Start writing down all the awesome things you have done in the past five years.
Make sure you include even the smallest, seemingly trivial accomplishments. Give yourself at least five to ten minutes to do this (more if you want!) and once time is up, read it over. Use this to remind yourself that you are capable, competent, and amazing.
2. Know that you have power to choose your own conscious thoughts.
We all fall prey to negative thoughts, but at the same time, we all have the choice of how much strength we are going to give them. Your inner critic will continuously try to show up, but let the words pass by without giving them any weight or importance, and replace it with something from your inner cheerleader. It’s not a forced shunning of your inner critic, but instead, lack of response to it.
3. Laugh more.
I interviewed a man who ran 100-mile races, and his suggestion for dealing with negative thoughts was “laugh them off as soon as they pop into your head.” Don’t stress about everything, instead, finding it funny that you are even stressing about it.
As a final thought, life is meant to be enjoyed. It’s a gift. Stop worrying about being perfect, doing everything right, and achieving “success,” and start living. When you focus on the journey, life is so much more beautiful, and it will allow you to appreciate the victories so much more. And I promise you, you’re going to have victories. So, smile, because the future is bright.