I’ve never really thought much about embarrassment as a barrier to physical activity, but Kira Bidrim’s “These seven words changed my whole perspective on working out” made me reflect on just how severe a barrier it can be. The seven words that changed her perspective are: “I want to see if you can.”
Embarrassment at taking part in physical activity was number two on a list of obstacles in a 1999 article published in The Physician and Sports Medicine. (Predictably, lack of time was first on the list.) We have blogged before about women who work out on treadmills in sheds because they don’t want to be seen.
And then there is a clothing that a lot of activities seem to demand — body hugging fabrics and styles that anyone who isn’t extremely confident in their skin will feel exposed and uncomfortable wearing. Some say, well, you don’t have to wear those clothes if you don’t want to. But of course, that singles you out in yet another way, since the “fashion” at a gym or a yoga studio or even on a ski hill is a key feature that separates out the newbies from the veterans who “belong” there. That can lead to another source of embarrassment.
And add all of that to the awkwardness of trying a new activity or entering into an unfamiliar and intimidating space that has its own culture and practices, and of course it makes sense that embarrassment may well set in. This is not to say anyone has a reason to be embarrassed. But it’s not a shock that self-consciousness takes hold in these scenarios.
I don’t experience it much in yoga or at the gym because I’m at home in those worlds and feel as if I belong. But where I find those thoughts can plague me most is in my running, where I sometimes feel embarrassed for not being faster. It’s a fleeting twinge that I only get on occasion, and it’s not keeping me from doing it, but it’s there. Deep down, though I love running, I also feel as if I’m a bit of an imposter because I’m not “fast enough” to think of myself as “a runner.”
Kira Bidrim’s seven revolutionary words — I want to see if you can — came from her personal trainer, “The General.” The perspective of exploring whether you can rather than assuming that you should be able to was all she needed to feel as if she had permission to be a beginner. As she points out, most motivational talk says “You CAN do it.” But what if you can’t?
Taking this into my running, instead of assuring me that I can maintain a 6-minute kilometer pace for any length of time, I can approach it as “I want to see if I can maintain a 6-minute kilometer pace for a whole kilometer.” And maybe next week I can explore whether I can hold it for 1.5K, etc.
It’s a small thing, but the permission not to be able to do the thing before you is a really important part of overcoming embarrassment if you can’t. It’s also quite motivating. Instead of “you can do this” (because, quite honestly, maybe you can’t–like I can’t do full lotus position in yoga), it’s more of a “beginner’s mind” approach to see what you might be able to do (or not).
Subtle, yes. But if it makes a difference and helps address some of that insecurity and sense of embarrassment that holds people back, why not?
If you ever feel embarrassment as a barrier to physical activity, do you think this slight change in approach (to “I want to see if you/I can…”) could make a difference? Do you have other strategies for getting past embarrassment?