Loving and Forgiving Ourselves

I need to be skinnierI know too many writers who struggle with writing. That’s what led me to my “Fitness and the Pomodoro Technique” post the other day. Because so much of what we get in the way of writing tips applies equally well to fitness, to life in general.

And so it is today. This post, Writing Begins with Forgiveness: Why One of the Most Common Pieces of Writing Advice Is Wrong,” talks about the role of shame and forgiveness in writing.  It made the rounds today.

What’s the common piece of writing advice that the author thinks is wrong? The advice to write every day. I’ve long known this is not the right advice for me. Why? Because it sets up an unreasonable and even undesirable expectation.

The author links that expectation to shame, a huge impediment to creativity:

Here’s what stops more people from writing than anything else: shame. That creeping, nagging sense of ‘should be,’ ‘should have been,’ and ‘if only I had…’ Shame lives in the body, it clenches our muscles when we sit at the keyboard, takes up valuable mental space with useless, repetitive conversations. Shame, and the resulting paralysis, are what happen when the whole world drills into you that you should be writing every day and you’re not.

We could equally say this about any fitness pursuit. Shame stops us in our tracks. Yes, “the creeping, nagging sense of ‘should be,’ ‘should have been,’ and ‘if only I had.'” Shame is not a motivator and doesn’t help us at all. How about starting with forgiveness?

Beginning with forgiveness revolutionizes the writing process, returns it being to a journey of creativity rather than an exercise in self-flagellation.  I forgive myself for not sitting down to write sooner, for taking yesterday off, for living my life. That shame? I release it.

We could use more of this where our workouts are concerned.

Remember last week when Sam and I got to guest lecture in the Women’s Studies class, The Body, and I talked about fitness and the normative body?  Since then, I’ve heard from a few people in the class get in touch with me to say that the lecture really hit a chord. Their stories are heart-breaking because I can relate all-too-well to what they’re going through, having been there myself when I was in my twenties.

One student told me she’d had a real epiphany about her addictive relationship to working out, and how unforgiving she is both when she is working out and when she misses a workout. There is a total absence of joy in her experience.

Another wrote to say that she too hates her workouts and is using them solely to achieve the body she sees depicted in fitspo, her main source of fitness inspiration. Not surprisingly, the only motivation she feels from fitspo is from the body-shaming it encourages. Beside the fitspo images, normal bodies are imperfect and unacceptable–weak, soft, undefined. And so we respond to it with punishing and joyless workouts that are a means to an unattainable end.

I also heard from someone training for a marathon. She said, “I really listened to what you said about running a marathon, that the important thing is finishing, not how your body looks when you do it.” And she’s going to return to workouts she likes to do, recognizing that she’ll be in better mental and physical shape if she does what makes her happy.

I have to say, I’m more than a little bit pleased to get messages from students who are able to view their own experience in the context of what we talk about in class and take steps to release themselves from self-imposed prisons (we talked about the panopticon in class). That is the beauty and power of feminist research — it actually has an impact on real women’s lives.

So back to self-forgiveness. Imagine if we approached our workouts (and our writing), not from shame over the bodies we have and the need to punish ourselves into shape, but instead from self-forgiveness and self-love.

It’s okay that I didn’t make it out to the pool on Tuesday morning. There is nothing wrong with me just because I’m finding life too stressful to add a Saturday morning bike class to my schedule. I can forgive myself for having a body that appears to be resistant to change in its ratio of lean mass to fat.

These days, I get a really great feeling from the workouts I do. My long runs with friends on the weekend are more like coffee dates than chores.  My personal trainer pushes me hard but I get a kick out of it and I’m getting stronger. When I do make it to the pool, I feel energized from the swim and from the camaraderie I experience with the other swimmers in my lane. I’m even enjoying bike class every Tuesday, despite that I feel like I’m dying a lot of the time. Knowing I’m not dying and that I can actually do this — it’s totally rewarding, so much more gratifying than when I used to be preoccupied with how each workout might translate into a smaller number on the scale. I can honestly say that I am doing nothing I hate these days. And that’s a huge change from twenty years ago, when workouts were to be endured not enjoyed, means to an end not fun and energizing.

To the young women from The Body who reached out to me with your personal stories, thank you!  As all of us do, you have every right to do things you enjoy.


6 thoughts on “Loving and Forgiving Ourselves

  1. This was really insightful, thanks! I think I need to be far more forgiving to myself. I got skinner/fitter but not necessarily happier and I wish I’d known that when I started!

  2. Tracy! Awesome post that really spoke to me as a writer and athlete. I sometimes fall into “beating myself up”–I should be further along in my book than I am, I should be interviewing more people, I should be querying magazines. Then on the physical side, I should be doing more intervals, I should be racing more, etc. I’m in the middle of The Artist’s Way book, and the author also talks about blocks to creativity like you have summarized. I need to read and hear this message a lot, so thanks again.

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