Acknowledging that you showed up for yourself after a workout — no matter how short your exercise or activity might be — is easier said than done. For some, celebrating small wins feels impossible. Instead of acknowledging progress, some of us resort to telling ourselves that we could’ve done more, or we shouldn’t bother showing up in the first place. Our internal critics — or as we like to say here at Thrive, the obnoxious roommate in our heads — can have a lot of power and keep us from performing at our best.
“When we’re training for any goal, we think that each workout has to be perfect and that if we can’t do what we intended to, then it’s not worth it. We feel shame if we fail, so we convince ourselves it’s better to not try at all,” Chris Cooper, NSCA-CPT, a certified personal trainer, says.
If your own inner critic is holding you back from achieving your movement and fitness goals, try these small mindset shifts to get yourself back on track.
Observe, don’t judge
It’s difficult to transform an overly critical mindset into an extremely positive one overnight, notes Frances Walfish, Psy.D., a family and relationship psychotherapist and author. That’s why it’s important to start small. “The first goal is to become a benign self-observer,” Walfish says. Instead of viewing yourself and your actions through a critical or judgmental lens, she recommends staying neutral and observing what’s going on. The next time you say to yourself, “Why can I only hold my plank for 30 seconds? I should be stronger,” take a step back, shift your negative tone, and simply observe: “I can hold a plank for 30 seconds.”
Find your five
Gratitude is a powerful deterrent to our inner critic. To fend off any judgmental feelings, Jennifer Ellis, a certified group fitness and yoga instructor, suggests identifying five things about yourself that evoke feelings of gratitude. “We often look at what we are grateful for in our lives, but rarely at what we are grateful for in ourselves,” Ellis says. Whether it’s your resilience, curiosity, or never-give-up attitude, pick a few things that make you thankful to be you and keep them in your toolbox. That way, when your inner critic strikes, you’ll have the power to tell them to keep quiet.
Let go of “good” and “bad”
Many of us get caught up in good-or-bad thought patterns when it comes to our fitness journeys. Hit the yoga mat three days in a row? Well, that’s something to be proud of — but didn’t you skip your practice altogether this past weekend? Before you know it, your self-criticism is spiraling out of control. “We think of everything we do as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ We eat ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods, we have ‘good’ or ‘bad’ workouts, we’re either on the wagon or off it. This kind of thinking leaves little room for growth and progress,” Cooper says. Instead, he suggests cutting yourself some slack, and letting go of binary thinking, and reminding yourself: “Struggle does not equal failure.” It’s also vital to allow yourself the room to appreciate the work you put in. That’s where your Microstep of giving yourself credit for showing up comes in — it can also help further fortify you against your inner critic.
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