If you know me, or read my blogs you know I run, well…a lot! I head out and hit the trail or dirt road regardless of the weather, minor injuries, even during the most difficult times in my life… especially during those times :). It’s finally spring. The weather is beautiful and I’m feeling that kind of appreciation you only get when you live in an area where it feels your weatherman almost always says, half apologetically, “clouds with a chance of rain”, or “6-8 inches of snow… again.”
I’m at one of my favorite trailheads. I gear up, lock the car, and head out. But truthfully not more than 20-30 yards in, I just feel my ‘get up and go’ fall out from under me. Low-energy, lethargic, and any motivation to just keep moving until it gets a little better, well… has moved on without me. My brain is already under the extra burden of trying to wrap itself around what is going to be required of me mentally and physically to run this hundred-mile race I signed up to do later this year. So, of course, while I’m feeling this exceptionally low moment, here comes the panicked voice inside my head.
“What’s going on? Why do I feel so bad? Am I coming down with something? What did I eat today? Am I burned out? That can’t be, I’m just about to start my training…” Many times these “Whys” can bring me to a place where I can figure out what’s going on for myself. Gain a little perspective and push through a difficult moment. But, while I’m standing in this mental puddle of fatigue, my brain hears only white noise. So, solutionless, it creates more panic in my cranium. And once the audience (my conscious mind) is primed with enough uncertainty and doubt…who enters, but the Inner Critic:
“Face it, you’re an old man (49 is old?). You’ve been running a lot lately, and while the miles have been good, you’re not knocking them down with the same punch you did during Ironman training when you were young and vibrant (40 years old…). That new training strategy you did for the JFK50 this past year, yeah, it was fine for the distance, but you KNOW it’s not going to be enough to bring you across the finish line in a hundred-mile race. You’ve lost that ‘push at all costs’ attitude. Just admit it. There’s no shame. You’re just not taking your training seriously like you used to. It’s ok. Just stop. Relax. I hear they’re starting a new ‘senior’ bocce team in the Valley this spring…”
My Inner Critic showing up is nothing new. I’d like to say that he’s the loudest when it comes to my running, but the truth is, he’s always there. And he never sleeps. Never. He’s with me 24/7. Like the US. Postal service: “Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night” stays this inner critic from the swift completion of his appointed rounds. He’s ready to jump into my thought process with both feet any time I have a smidge of self-doubt. An inkling of anxiety. Any hint of fear in the face of uncertainty and I can count on my Inner Critic being ‘there for me’. Ready to save my day–or at least ‘save me from myself’, so I don’t do anything that might cause me (really ‘us’) discomfort…even if that discomfort is something that I’ve chosen for the purpose of growth.
The only two good things about my Inner Critic? He’s consistent and predictable. I know him well. If he’s showing up, chances are I’m already in the midst of growing. Of becoming better. And experience has taught me that he doesn’t have my best interest at heart, and doesn’t speak to what I know about myself and my training. But I am tired and off today. In spite of that, I do know this:
I do not have to face my Inner Critic alone.
There’s another voice I’ve developed. A voice in my corner for just this kind of occasion. Now this voice is not there to do battle with my Inner Critic (there’s not enough energy or time in the world for that fight). Nor is this voice I’ve created intended to scream louder than him (that inner critic is LOUD!). No, this ’s a solid voice. A strong, firm, and confident voice that I have to consciously choose to listen to over and over again if I want…well, what I want (which is to get my run in at the moment). Although my Inner Critic is relentess and loud, there’s one chink in it’s ever so powerful armor:
I know I don’t have to listen to what it has to say.
This knowledge comes from deep practice. Deep practice listening to a different voice inside me. In fact, the more I choose to listen to this different, truthful, and energizing voice I’ve created for myself, the stronger it (and I) become.
This voice is my Internal Coach.
Honestly, my Internal Coach is made up of many voices. These are the voices of people in my life, past or present, who have mentored me, believed in me, and influenced me in a positive way and took the time to do it, even when it wasn’t required of them. What do all these mentors who make up my Internal Coach’s voice have in common? They hold the memories of what I have done well, and all the lessons I’ve learned from my setbacks, and, like any great coach, can call them up at a moment’s notice to remind me of how capable I am, how I can persevere, or even remind me to just continue on even when I’m in a tough spot (like feeling a good deal of debilitating fatigue right before a run).
This is a voice worth developing for yourself. Unlike your Inner Critic, your Internal Coach isn’t 24/7…yet. It doesn’t come with the complete package of you. It’s something that you have to add. Your Internal Coach is software that needs to be put into your conscious mind through deep practice (deliberate repetition) again and again. But once that software gets running and you get in the habit of giving your Internal Coach your attention, you will be amazed by what you can accomplish! You’ll also be surprised by how much less your Inner Critic seems to show it’s head. It’s true, you may not be able to stop that Inner Critic from coming up and trying to “save you” time and time again, but you can run another program. With the help of your Internal Coach, you can choose what it is that you’re going to focus on and you can gain control of your life.