Drop Your Inner Critic and Trust Yourself

I’ve listened to my inner critic for years with that scary, foreboding voice insisting, “You’ve got to go harder!” (Even on the scheduled ‘easy’ days).  It would follow up with subtle threats to my ego like, “You’ll never finish your race with long, slow runs.  It’s good that it hurts every time you train!”  Any time races were new to me, my inner critic fed on my uncertainty and doubt would lead me to ignore perfectly good training plans, long, slow runs, and advice from seasoned veterans in my sport.  

What I found was that my desire to get out if that feeling of uncertainty led me not to trust myself.  I knew when more training turned into ‘just too much’.  My gut threw out a plethora of bright ‘red flags’ when I would replace my long, rolling runs with mountain excursions for shorter, and more intense amounts of time.  But I didn’t listen?  Nope.  I rode out the fear with hard effort, ignoring what I knew was not right for me…all the way to the hospital.

Last year was the first year in a decade of monster races that I actually listened to what I knew was right for myself.  Trusted my gut.  Shaved intensity off.  Hit the brakes on long, slow runs.  Kept those hills ‘rolling’ instead of ‘severely challenging’.  What did I end up with?  One of the most successful races of my life — while suffering a severe case of the flu to boot. 

But this ‘race’?  My inner critic isn’t questioning my intensity, or work ethic.  It’s not threatening me with ‘missed finishes’ or low self esteem.  This race my inner critic is questioning something different: my coaching.

For the last 20 years in one way or another I’ve coached either boxing, basketball, or cross country. It has given me nothing but great passion and pleasure to watch kids and young adults of all ages succeed wildly in accomplishing things they never thought possible.  But this year poses obstacles to this great passion of mine. This year we have the coronavirus.

I have to say that I am fortunate enough to live in a very safe state when it comes to this virus.  A green state.  A state where the governor has shown nothing but excellent leadership and has helped us stay safe.  But our state has given fall sports a green light, and my gut is putting up ‘red flags’ & ringing bells all over the place.  And it’s right to do so.  I am almost 50 years old.  I have two existing health conditions that aren’t ‘corona friendly’ and my coaching (in the traditional sense of the sport with busing, competition with other teams, etc) poses a serious concern to my and my family’s health and well being.  

With every step the argument from my inner critic grows stronger, “Come on!  The governor says it’s safe!  You’re in a green state for God sakes!  You’ll be fine.  Just gut it out!”  I’ve listened to this argument before.  I’ve thrown caution to the wind and ignored those ‘red flags’ from my gut before, ignoring what was right for myself in many other arenas in my life because of not being able to line up ‘the reasons’ something wasn’t right…and found myself in a pretty serious, life-threatening situation.

It’s hard to get behind ourselves when we’re unsure of the right course of action.  When our true north is a bit overcast by uncertainty.  That’s usually when our inner critic finds its highest octave.  It is during these times when resilience is truly created.  Not by acting as though any port in the storm will do just as long as it enables us to get out of the waters of angst.  Victory is in the pause.  In the quieting of ourselves.  In being brave enough to listen to what our emotions are telling us.  Safe harbor is right around the corner if we can just be courageous enough to allow for the uncomfortability that comes with trusting ourselves.

So, I pause.  I think about what I need and what I am willing to do.  Then, and only then, do I take action.

I’ve decided to coach fall cross country, but only with a plan that is a bit unusual.  A hybrid of sorts and not what my traditional cross country season would look like.  I’m putting it forward to the ‘powers that be’ at the school in hopes that they will accept my proposal.  If not, it will be the first season in 20 years that I will not be coaching.  As sad as this would be for me, it feels right.   The storm inside my gut has subsided and my inner critic has retreated back into the shadows once again.  At least for now.  I’m sure he’ll be back when I face my next bout with uncertainty.  I’ll be ready.

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