January is a fantastic time to make new health & fitness goals but often people are really hard on themselves, taking a militant approach that really isn’t all that helpful. (Example: “I’m going to get up early every day and go to the gym and only eat salad”). While some people may like a trainer that yells at them to work harder, that has never been my style and I think kindness is completely underestimated when it comes to fitness. Are you really more motivated by being recognized for making a positive change than by being scolded for eating a cookie that wasn’t in your plan? Um..no. Probably not. Mostly likely you will feel bad about eating the cookie and then give up and eat the whole bag (“might as well”, right?). This is where self-kindness (and forgiveness) comes in. You are not a complete failure because you slipped up a little (or even a lot). There really is no such thing as a “perfect” diet or fitness plan and there are more important things to focus your energy on than berating yourself. Learning to forgive yourself and move on quickly is really important for long-term success.
When I was a teenager I was a promising athlete and was extremely hard on myself. I thought that more was always better and I learned the hard way that this isn’t always the case. Overtraining and not supporting physical and mental recovery can lead to injuries, burnout, and other negative consequences (for me personally, I developed an eating disorder). It is one thing to strive for improvement and quite another to feel like you are never good enough. The truth is that there will always be someone faster, stronger, or more beautiful (or differently beautiful) than you are. That is not the point. The point is to do your best, to feel alive, and to make the most of the time you’ve been given.
Self-kindness is not permission to go off the rails and do whatever you want. We know that improving athletic performance requires intentional training and optimizing recovery through high-quality nutrition, rest, and relaxation. We also know that loss doesn’t come from sitting on your butt and eating fast food. So, are you really being kind to yourself when you make choices that are not supporting your health and fitness goals? What does self-kindness look like to you?
I think that it will be a little different for each of us. Practicing self-kindness to me is…
- going to bed early so that I feel well-rested and ready for the day
- eating whole foods that support my training and body composition goals most of the time
- having really awesome cheat meals once in a while
- warming up properly before my workouts
- lifting heavy weights and striving to get stronger
- making time to swim, run, and play basketball
- getting a massage once in a while
- reading for enjoyment (not just scientific articles for my PhD)
- avoiding magazines and most popular media that promotes unrealistic body ideals
What about you? How are you going to be kind to yourself today?