It is great to have goals in your training, it gives us motivation and that glorious feeling of satisfaction whenever we reach one. There is a dark side, however, to the ambition that comes when the drive to get better overshadows the training process.
In my coaching, I often hear concern from men and women of all ages that they are not progressing quickly enough, and that they are struggling. The desired results are not coming as easily as they had hoped, or they are coping with pain and injury. These obstacles make people doubt whether they will ever achieve their goals.
So many of us, myself included, have struggled with the belief that if you try something and you are not instantly—or at least quickly—good at it, you will never be good at it. Some part of us believes that we must be good every day, all the time, and experience continual improvement every time we try. If we have a bad day, need to rest, get an injury, or just find something extremely difficult, this brings up feelings of failure. We feel a deep fear that we will never reach the image of bendy perfection that we see in our minds.
It is dangerous to approach your training sessions from a place of fear. Fear stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, telling the body to tense up and making it more difficult to cultivate sensitivity and awareness. This is never productive in fitness, but it is particularly detrimental to flexibility training where relaxation and awareness are essential to the process. When engaged in a stretch at any level from beginner to advanced, a calm and present mind is able to relax and lengthen the target muscle while simultaneously supporting it with other muscles. A mind that is tense and nervous will have a lot more difficulty achieving this state.
It is a normal, inevitable reality that during the training process we all will experience adversity. There will be certain things that are very difficult. Some stretches will bring up strong emotions, discomfort, irritability, and other negative thoughts and feelings. Sometimes a position that was easy yesterday will be impossible today. There are days when the back feels like a board and the legs are full of cement. And there will always be other people who are better than you, learn faster, and give the illusion of breezing through their training like they were walking on the beach.
If you accept that challenges like this are inevitable, it helps you keep from worrying about them. When something like that comes up, just acknowledge that it is “one of those days” and know that tomorrow is a new day, then do the best you can today. Doing the best you can today, without beating yourself up, will improve the chances that tomorrow will be better.
When we find ourselves going over to the dark side, comparing ourselves to others (either favorably or unfavorably), saying nasty things to our muscles when they don’t cooperate, getting angry, wanting to improve faster, pushing too hard, or believing that we will never be good enough, here are some things to think about that I find helpful:
1. You started doing this because you enjoy it.
Find the joy. Its in there somewhere.
2. You can’t get better at something without being where you are now.
With physical training there are no shortcuts, magic pills, or cheat sheets. You cannot go directly to step “Z” without starting at step “A” and working through the rest of the alphabet. It just doesn’t work.
3. If it were easy everyone would do it and it wouldn’t be nearly as awesome.
4. Setbacks are inevitable in the learning process.
As you discover more about your body and progress, new challenges will arise. This keeps things interesting. Allow yourself those moments of frustration then take a big breath and move on. Indulging in anger and frustration will do nothing to make you better.
5. The body feels different from day to day depending on a great number of factors, some of which are in your control and some aren’t.
Sometimes you will feel great, sometimes you wont. Do your best to take good care of your body and accept that some days will be less fun than others.
6. Just because something is challenging for you doesn’t mean that you aren’t “good,” whatever “good” means.
Think about how much you have improved since you first started.
7. Comparing yourself to others is a dangerous game.
There will always be someone better, and someone worse. This way madness lies. The only thing that you can do better than anyone else is be yourself.
8. Some goals you will achieve quickly, some you will achieve slowly, some you may never achieve at all.
That’s totally fine. Celebrate your success and don't beat yourself up about everything else.
9. No goal, no deadline, no contest, class, challenge, competition, job, performance, or personal vendetta is worth injuring your body.
Sometimes it is very difficult to keep things in perspective but try to remember that this is going to be your body for the rest of your life. Honor it.
10. Every amazing athlete and performer that you admire has been through this process.
They have sweat and cried and fallen over too. You are part of a time-honored tradition, a sacred journey. Don’t fret so much over the destination that you forget to enjoy the process.