With all this talk lately about goal setting, resolutions, and new starts, I want to take a moment to acknowledge the important of rest and understanding what motivates us to move (or not).
Seeing so many ambitious plans for the year and carving out some for myself has been so inspiring and uplifting, but many motivational ideas are thrown around this time of year that are tough for me to get on board with. While these messages tend to have positive intentions, it’s a bit exhausting to see so much marketing that could be interpreted or received as shaming, punishing, and/or promoting poor self-image and emotional health.
Let’s dive in to some examples of messages I’ve noticed.
You were bad and you need to undo the damage ASAP
This one runs rampant in the health food and fitness world during January. You. Yes, you. You know what you did, you naughty cookie eater. You drank champagne and overate with your family. We know it, and we’re here to help you punish yourself with ellipticals and lettuce. #ellipticalsandlettuce
Food and exercise shaming is NOT something I want to be a part of my new year. Enjoying big meals and indulging with family is not something to cower in shame over, or to feel guilty about and “fix” with a new gym membership or juice-only diet. Fortunately, I’ve never battled any serious disordered eating myself, but I have many people in my life that do struggle and guilt-inducing marketing always makes me angry. And even if I haven’t had major challenges in this area, everyone is susceptible to feeling bad about themselves at least occasionally and slogans like “Get back on track” and “Reverse the damage” incite those feelings. When companies use this messaging, I’m instantly turned off.
New Year, New You
Oh great, time to acknowledge that we were not good enough in 2016. But wait, a chance to finally be good enough?! Oh, joy!
In case my sarcasm wasn’t strong enough (as a New Englander, it’s almost always too strong) this one really gets my goat.* Milestones like new years and birthdays can be a great opportunity to reflect, acknowledge accomplishments, set goals, and get excited for the year ahead. But they can also be a time of great stress, especially when there is a lot of pressure to make sure you’re “good enough” and to try to keep “improving.”
One concept in yoga that I’ve always found compelling and challenging is the idea that we are always already good enough. The idea is that striving to achieve new things is exciting and wonderful, but that no matter what we set out to do, we already have all we need to succeed. We don’t always need to prove ourselves or push ourselves to be better; we are already great exactly as we are in this moment in time. Acknowledging how wonderful we already are and building that beautiful self-confidence can just as powerful and empowering as accomplishing a fitness goal.
I continue to grapple with this concept and the balance between pushing myself and finding ease is constant. How do I know when to suck it up and when to rest? I don’t have answers here, but I do try to find balance in the practice of both. Some days it feels right to cast excuses aside and go for something big; others it feels right to slow down, listen to my body and mind, and find ease and comfort in rest. I also think this comes down to knowing yourself: are you someone who tends to push it too far and wind up injured or burnt out? Or are you someone who tends to let excuses hold you back? Spending some time assessing this can help you know when to push vs. rest.
Another related yogic concept is that reaching goals or checking things off a list doesn’t automatically make you “better.” The goals themselves don’t mean greatness or accomplishment – it’s the process of training, learning to listen to your body, learning to trust yourself, acknowledging what you need, developing dedication, practicing patience – that space is where valuable lessons can be learned.
As one of my teachers says: Being able to hold a handstand for 30 seconds won’t make you a good friend, partner, parent, or person. But dedicating time to yourself and to something you love and giving yourself what you need can help you to be less reactive and more patient in your life.
In other words, it’s all about what you learn on the journey, and placing too much weight on statistics or outcomes can be stressful. Doing yoga or running every day won’t necessary make you a better athlete or person without some quality time spent in reflection and practicing self-care and self-love.
I personally don’t want to be driven by guilt, so messaging that hints this way tends to irk me. Could someone take “New Year, New You” to mean “this year, I won’t be so hard on myself”? Yes, of course, and that would be phenomenal. But when the message is tied to a gym or a salad bar, it just leaves a bad taste in my mouth (unlike salads, which taste delicious and shouldn’t be a form of punishment or redemption).
* FYI because I looked it up and never knew this: the origin of the phrase “gets my goat” is derived from a tradition in horse racing of placing a goat in a thoroughbred’s stall to chill him out before his big race. *~the more you know*~
No Days Off
This is a pretty common message this time of year made even more popular by a wall calendar , but it’s one that tends to make me cringe. No days off? But…aren’t those necessary?
The wall calendar is intended to encourage consistency and moderation by asking runners to hit the road every day, even if only for 15 minutes, regardless of the weather. There’s a lot that I like about that: encouraging short, mellow runs and movement throughout the winter are both awesome intentions. And some people really do respond well to this type of motivation and probably won’t feel guilty or bad about missing a day and not getting their daily . But the idea of never taking a day off of running no matter what – even if you’re sick, tired, injured, spending time with family, etc – just doesn’t seem like a healthy or realistic goal to me.
I know I’m interpreting this in a super literal way, but my first reaction was: do most runners need this messaging? Maybe I’m just surrounded by badass athletes that aren’t deterred by the weather and seem to be constantly motivated to take on new things and be consistent in their fitness, but I just don’t feel like most runners really need to be told to never take a day off. Aren’t rest days and recovery part of any good training plan? My experience has been that many athletes are prone to over-training and under-resting, and could probably use a few more days off. Is a run – even if it’s short – when you’re sick or injured or recovering worth doing just to check off another day?
This has been front and center in my mind because I started off the new year with a cold and some lingering pains in my body. I really wanted to leap into all of my favorite activities in the new year, but every time I went for a run or to my favorite yoga class, my cold and pain seemed to get worse. I knew that I needed rest, but found it hard to take it. This isn’t how I want to start off the year. I’m tougher than this – I can keep pushing through and this cold will eventually go away. I found it to be much more challenging to convince myself to rest than it ever is to get myself up and moving.
Social media definitely compounded this problem and I’m sure injured runners feel the same way: seeing other people tackling what you want to be doing is frustrating, and can make you feel inadequate. It’s really tough to recognize that you’re doing the right thing for yourself when you choose rest. Rest isn’t celebrated; pushing through challenges is.
I personally find days off and flexibility in my schedule to be important and don’t connect with the “no days off” mentality. But obviously what works as motivation for me won’t necessarily work for you.
My hope in talking about these subjects is not to shame or discount someone else’s strategies, but to start dialogue where it’s potentially needed and share my thoughts. So please share your thoughts and experiences with these messages and your sources of inspiration. I’m all ears!
Have you heard or seen these messages in 2017?
How do they make you feel? Inspired, motivated, stressed out, guilty, inadequate? Maybe a bit of everything?
Where do you find your motivation and inspiration?
How do you feel when you choose rest?