The Voices in Your Head

By Natalina Earls-  Cranston, Rhode Island

It’s 9am and I’m strapping on my ugly sneakers with the toes (my husband calls them my alien feet, but I can’t stand running in anything else anymore and truth be told, I take a weird pride in their unsightliness).  I fill up my water bottle and put it in my belt carrier, set up my get-your-butt-moving-faster-playlist, switch on MapMyRun to track my pace and distance, do a couple rounds of dynamic stretches, and set out on my scheduled 5mile run with a precise pace goal as part of my half marathon training.  All is right with the world. Two days before I ran a glorious, effortless 8miles, so today will be a breeze right? Wrong.

With my first footfall the plan unravels. The voices in my head start turning on me—“Wow! My legs feel like they each weigh 1,000lbs!” “You’re never going to hit your goal,” “Seriously, 30 seconds per mile under pace?! You stink!” (actually, not stink, but something less kind that I’m not sure I’m allowed to say here). “You can’t do this.” “You’re not fast enough.” The first three miles are unmitigated torture, comprised of a barrage of self-doubting insults. 

At mile three, I switch gears.  I think about how I would treat a client in this circumstance. The thought of beating down a client like that sickens me and I remind myself to treat my body, emotions, and workouts with the same honor and respect I treat theirs. Amanda Albanese, a friend and running coach, comes into my head. She once told me that getting through the slow and frustrating runs is an exercise in endurance.  You have endured the fact that you weren’t as fast as you would have liked, you persevered anyway, and you didn’t go home. That is an accomplishment to be honored. I generally practice what I preach and value myself and have pride in my workouts, but we all have our moments of weakness.  The trick is coming out of it.

One of the best ways to beat the negative voices in your head during a workout is to be prepared with positive mantras.  A mantra is traditionally a “sacred utterance” used in Buddhist and Hindu practices.  Essentially, a mantra is a word or phrase repeated mentally or verbally.  Mantras are often used in yoga to help to center the practitioner and set their intention for their practice.  It is a meditative tool.

In order to use this tool in your fitness regimen, it is helpful to devise your mantra before your workouts.  Think about what vexes you the most when you exercise.  Is it your body image, your wind, muscle fatigue, a belief that you’re not as good as others? Try to come up with a specific phrase that speaks to that issue.  For instance, if you obsess over how you look when running outdoors or taking a class then you might say, “beauty in strength, beauty in motion” or “my body is capable, I am fortunate.”  If you get caught up in thinking about your breathing, then perhaps you could say “open chest, strong lungs” or “breath easy.”  You probably won’t believe it at first, but fake it ‘til you make it.  Just go to the phrase and repeat it.  Not only will you start to believe it, but also the practice of repetition may help you enter a more meditative mind frame, which takes you out of the big picture of the workout ahead and gets you through it more seamlessly.

Finally listening to my own advice at mile three, I return to an old faithful mantra “you’re strong, you’re fast, you’ve got this.”  I didn’t meet my goal pace, but that’s just a number. I beat the run, I beat the voices of doubt, and I believed my mantra a little more than I did the day before.  Success.

Natalina Earls is a National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer with additional credentials in Spinning, TRX, Boot Camp, and Kickboxing. Natalina has years of personal and professional experience in various fitness methods and is an avid runner and obstacle race enthusiast.  She currently operates The Edge Fitness for Women in the Edgewood neighborhood of Cranston. The Edge Fitness offers personal training and group fitness classes including spin, barre, boot camp, kickboxing, and strengthen and tone.



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