Kyla & Alex

Canadian Triathletes, Coaches, & Exercise Scientists

Why Self-Pity is the Least Productive Mental State for Triathlon (And Probably Life)

We all fall into it. Those moments where nothing is going right, your goals or dreams appear to be slipping away, and feelings of sadness and frustration well-up in a rush of paralyzing, possibly tearful, emotion. Maybe you are busy comparing yourself to others (people who are not experiencing your particular struggle), or maybe you are just sad about your situation. In any case, and under most situations, self-pity is your greatest mental-enemy. Let’s see why:

1.     Self-Pity is Unproductive

There are many cases where our situations warrant a certain amount of sadness. Injuries, and illness, and underperformance are frustrating, and certainly are never fun. However, if you are busy feeling sad and sorry for your pitiful self, you are unable to see the possibly beneficial aspects of your situation. For example, the two years (separated by a year) of ITB syndrome I experienced (in which I couldn’t run at all), allowed me to make some significant improvements on the bike. While I wasn’t able to race, my biking was catapulted to a level that I never would have achieved without the time I was able to put towards it. There are often silver linings that can be found if we look for them, focus on them, and take a HUGE step away from feeling sorry for ourselves.

2.     Self-pity destroys your performance

Ever been in a difficult workout or a race, and felt the frantic self-pity flow in? Maybe you get punched in the face for the third time in the swim, and start feeling like, “Well, this is a good reason to throw in the towel! I mean, poor me just got punched three times!”. When these thoughts cross our minds, we intuitively slow down. Our pathetic mental state tells us to give up, and to lie in the lake waiting for our pathetic rescue. Even if you are still going, your mindset is slowing you down. It is very important to recognize these feelings, and recognize what they do to our physical state, and then to fight them! From my experience, these moments can only be fought by getting angry. Real angry.  You are a tough mutha*** and nothing is going to stop you! Not your shitty day, not your bleeding nose, nothing! You are going to crush this race and prove it to everyone that you are tough and strong and a Warrior!

Try it next time you are feeling sorry for yourself. It works!

3.    Self-pity is just another form of negative self-talk

There will always be bad times in life. Awful things happen, and sometimes you will need to grieve. I don’t mean to take that away from anyone. However when self-pity, largely independent of grief, is used regularly, it becomes just another form of ego-driven negative self-talk. Oooh words: “ego-driven self-talk.” I say this because self-pity is often a way we make ourselves feel special in our misery. “I am worse-off because", or "my situation is different because", or "I just don’t have the talent”, etc. However, barring true grief situations, your life is likely not that special, and many people have it way worse. If you need some help feeling less special, pick up a book about any global conflict (I just read Road Trip to Rwanda- you could start there), and you’ll realize that your injury, job stress, life stress, lack of perceived talent, etc. does not in any way make you special. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, any athlete will go through their share of years that are down-right awful, and their success comes from making the most of their situations, working through their problems, and certainly not feeling sorry for themselves.

So what do you do about it??

I’m not a psychologist, so I am not an authority on the matter. That said, many forms of therapy (such as cognitive behavioral therapy), and mindfulness training, revolve around the ability to identify your thoughts and feelings. So step number 1 is to recognize when you are in a moment of self-pity, and need to snap-the-hell out of it. Step number 2 in a training/racing situation is to turn it into anger. That will get you through the session or the race. However, step 2 in a non-racing/ training situation (when anger is not super appropriate) is to review your thoughts, and then decide how to take ownership of the situation. What can you do to make your situation the best it can be? How can you excel despite the situation, recognizing everyone has their share of difficulties. Lastly, choose to be the best you can be and then find ways to be better.  

Easy!

-Alex         

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