If you've ever exercised, chances are there's a little voice in your head that talks to you whenever you workout. This voice isn't usually the cheerleading type, but more like your mean elementary school teacher who never thinks you're good enough. It might tell you you're not working hard enough or that you're not lifting heavy enough. It might even make you question exercise altogether, creating self-doubt about your program, your goals and your ability to reach them.
We all have an inner critic, and sometimes it's useful, letting you know when you've done less than your best. However, if your inner critic is stopping you from moving forward, maybe it's time to talk back.
Silence Your Inner Critic
While completely silencing your inner critic is tough, there are questions you can ask to quiet that voice and find satisfaction in your workouts:
1. Am I doing the best I can? - This may sound simplistic, but it's a good question to ask yourself if that little voice is raising too many questions about your workouts. Your answer may be based on a number of factors:
- Physical abilities - It's easy to feel like you're not good enough if you can only do a certain amount of exercise. It's also easy to compare yourself to other people who can do more. However, your fitness level isn't a reflection on your failure or success as a person. Ask yourself if you're doing what your body can handle right now. If you're not sure what your body can handle, it's always better to err on the side of caution until you know more about how your body responds to exercise.
- Goals - When your inner voice starts nagging you about your lack of weight loss, or some other shortcoming, ask yourself: Is what I'm doing in line with my goals? If you're sitting on the couch instead of exercising, that's an easy no. However, if you're doing your workouts to the best of your ability, isn't that a yes? If you're not sure, consider hiring a trainer to help you figure out what your goals are and how to reach them.
- Energy Levels - Our energy levels change from day to day, depending on how much we've exercised, how much sleep we're getting and how much we're working. Some days, your best is doing a full-out, hardcore workout while, for others, simply showing up for your workout is the best you can do. Asking yourself if your workouts match your energy levels can help silence your inner critic.
2. Am I challenging myself? - If your inner voice is saying you're not working hard enough, ask yourself if that's true. Part of getting fit and losing weight is challenging your body. The more you challenge yourself, the stronger it has to become to adapt to that extra challenge. Ask yourself how long you've been doing your workouts. When was the last time you pushed yourself? If it's been awhile, maybe it's time for a change.
3. Do I have a solid plan? - It's easy for your inner critic to get under your skin when you don't have a plan. Showing up at the gym and randomly choosing exercises or machines, or just winging it leaves the door open to that kind of criticism. If you don't have a plan, how do you know if you're successful or not? For some, just exercising may be enough of a plan. For many of us, we need specifics in place to keep that inner critic satisfied.
Start by assessing your workouts with a few basic steps. If you find your workouts aren't living up to your goals, make a new plan, remembering that it takes time and experimentation to find what works for you.
4. Am I a perfectionist? - We often think that setting high expectations will make us work harder. To some extent, that's true. If you strive for perfection, you may indeed work harder to reach it. The problem is, you never actually get there, leaving you vulnerable to your inner critic.
Learning more about how perfectionism works can help you lower your expectations to a reasonable level, leaving you much more satisfied with your accomplishments.
Learning to listen to your inner critic in the right ways is crucial for staying committed to exercise. While it may have useful things to tell you, you're ultimately in charge of your own choices. Instead of allowing it to shame you into skipping workouts or quitting altogether, use it to make even better choices for yourself.