I remember the first time I didn’t meet a fitness goal. I ran cross country in high school, and my goal was to break 23:00 on a 5K (fun fact — for 3 consecutive races, I ran 23:23 as my time). At the end of my season, I still couldn’t seem to break 23:23.
In hindsight, there were a few reasons: I wasn’t very regimented with training or nutrition, nor was it something I was strenuously putting effort into. However, it didn’t change the frustration I felt when I couldn’t achieve what I sought out to do. Failing to hit goals, whether fitness-related or not, can impact self-confidence — especially if a person tends to find their value in what they do as opposed to who they are.
Many of the tips we see today about being gentle with yourself are vague simplifications. Though it’s important to practice compassion and stop being so hard on yourself, what can we tangibly do to be more gentle? Additionally, if we don’t view this correctly, there is a fine line between gentleness and using gentleness as an excuse to give up. How do we love ourselves when we don’t meet goals without throwing in the towel?
Listen to your body
First things first, there’s a chance you aren’t able to meet fitness goals because your body simply can’t get there. I would never advise someone to complete a triathlon if they haven’t trained for it. Even more simply, if you don’t sleep as well the night before, you will be more tired throughout the day. If you don’t drink enough water before you exercise, you can become dehydrated, which inhibits your performance.
It seems counterintuitive, but the more you recognize your limits from the onset, the gentler you will be with yourself. Everyone has limits — and that’s absolutely okay! You may be a little sore if you continuously put in the time to exercise, but don’t mistake this for an impending injury. We know more about our bodies than we realize. If you sense something is off, take it easy, and get back up once you are feeling back to normal.
Change your goal temporarily
Gentleness with yourself may include reassessing your goals and building them up over time. Let’s go back to the triathlon example. If you are not ready for a triathlon yet, break it down into smaller pieces. Instead of completing all three sports, make it your goal to complete the running portion. Then, when you’re ready, complete the bicycling and the swimming portion. From there, you’ll be better suited to complete the full triathlon.
The main word to focus on here is that we’re changing goals temporarily. Once you hit one goal, it’s important to build on it. It doesn’t have to be an increasing quantity of things to do. For example, instead of adding more mileage to the triathlon, you can try to complete it in less time (setting a “personal record”). If you change your goal temporarily and listen to your body simultaneously, you can achieve the balance of gentleness with motivation.
Approach yourself the way you would talk to a close friend
One time, I was criticizing myself about a mistake I made. My roommate at the time, Sydney, asked me, “What would you say to me, as your friend, if I was in the situation that you are in now?” A question so simple changed the way I viewed myself and the times I have come up short. We tend to treat the people we care about most a lot better than ourselves. While it’s good to be selfless, imagine how our self-narrative would change if we loved ourselves the way we loved our family and friends.
This isn’t to say we completely gloss over the times we don’t meet a goal. Accountability, of self and others, is a loving act. When Sydney asked me that question, she wasn’t dismissing the fact that I did make a mistake. Instead, she was helping me realize that she will remain loyal and still love me no matter what. Gentleness can be nudging a friend in the right direction, but it can also be tough love.
Whenever you aren’t practicing gentleness with yourself, pick a close family member or friend. Ask, “if X was in this situation, what would I say to them?” As you continually practice that, your self-narrative will hit a healthy balance of loving yourself, but not indulging yourself.
Although failing to hit fitness goals can be disappointing, it allows you to prepare to fail in other avenues. At one point or another, you will fail at something — we all do. And when that inevitably happens, it’s important to remember that our failure to hit a milestone does not change our worthiness of being loved.