Perfectionism is one of those topics that almost invariably shows up in my work with coaching clients. It has certainly played a role in my life, and while I have noticed and worked on some of the ways it can drive me to do things that aren’t so great for myself, I can’t say my perfectionistic tendencies are entirely under my reign. Just the other day, as I was out for what feels like my bajillionth easy run as I deal with a nagging hip injury, I caught myself slipping into all kinds of thoughts fueled by my perfectionist of a gremlin.
“Turn around and go home.”
“This pace is not even worth running at.”
“You are SO SLOW! What’s the point?!”
“You are running slower than you have ever run in your whole life. All that time you spent training has done nothing.”
Just typing them out is enough to make me want to cry, which speaks to the way the things we say to ourselves can be super hurtful. But as I trudged up a hill, I noticed something: I wouldn’t let myself stop. Sure, there’s a time and place for admitting defeat, but my hip wasn’t the problem on that run—my self-talk was. And I was able to catch it and notice it, and call myself out on it.
It often helps me when I’m feeling particularly mean to myself to ask, Would I say this to a friend? I can assure you that I wouldn’t tell a fellow runner to stop because they’re going a little slower nowadays, or that they have been wasting their time training just because they aren’t faster than ever.
Perfectionism in running can send you back to the couch. It can be the reason you don’t sign up for an event that you’ve always wanted to do, or join the group that you know you’ll enjoy training with. In short, it can be the reason you miss out on all kinds of experiences.
And the cool thing about running and training for athletic endeavours more generally is that they give us a chance to confront the parts of ourselves that need a good standing up to. I hate that I have a mean little gremlin who doesn’t think anything is ever enough and is always focusing on the ways I suck instead of looking at what’s great. Putting myself into athletic situations where I have to deal with the kind of obstacles and barriers that I set up for myself, on purpose, reminds me that I can overcome that shit. Why would I go for a bike ride in the rain when I could be dry inside? Or lace up my shoes before the sun comes up on a cold day? Doing tough things reminds me that I am stronger than those voices and that I don’t have to give in to the crappy parts of myself. It alerts me to ways of thinking that only serve to hold me back, and most importantly, perhaps, it gives me a chance to be a little more of the person I want to be in my daily life—more resilient, less hard on myself, more dedicated, more patient. Just because I notice the negative self-talk when I'm training doesn't mean that it's relegated to my workouts. I can assure you that those voices we hear when we are facing tough workouts, races, or competitions are the same ones that come up when we apply for a job we really want, have tough conversations with our loved ones, or ask our partners for something we really need from them. To me, that seems like hard work worth doing and uncomfortable feelings worth addressing.
Now, if you don’t mind, I’ve got some training to do…
Where do you find yourself noticing things about yourself?
Do you consider yourself a perfectionist?
How do you work on negative self-talk?