Why Do We Talk Ourselves Out of Even Trying?

I want to be fearless, always jump in with both feet and tackle anything the world puts in front of me. In other words I would love to be a bad a$$ bitch! I’m not though… Thoughts like “I can’t do that,” and “that’s too hard” have often held me back. Here’s the thing though I know I’m not alone, literally everyone talks themselves out of doing something they really want to do before they even try! We all have a lot of things we’d really like to accomplish but so often we use negative self talk to talk ourselves out of it long before step one. Personally I would like to run a marathon, an ultra, vastly improve my olympic time, do well in a real century ride and heck even feel totally comfortable on the road in traffic but that’s just the fitness stuff. In life as a whole I’d like to move, speak up for myself way more, plan for retirement and you know generally be a bad a$$ bitch! Most of us have a list like that the only difference is I’m admitting it. 

This post was straight up inspired by one of my favorite youtuber’s Natasha Oceane. She did a video where she ran an ultra with pretty much no training, although girl is goals level of fit. While I don’t recommend that for most she talked a lot about how most of us talk ourselves out of even trying. That and the power of letting that go and just trying. I found it very inspiring and maybe a little life changing. I wanted to dig into those ideas a little deeper and explore that feeling more. So that’s what we’re talking about today. Just thinking about how we talk ourselves out of things might change your life too. A lot of this will be focused on athletics (and some life stuff) but it applies to pretty much anything. So let’s get started.

It comes from fear but not what you think you’re afraid of

All of the feelings you’re feeling and thoughts you’re having about not doing something you want to do are really rooted in fear. However it’s not the things you are telling yourself you’re afraid of. You might tell yourself that you’re afraid that this new thing will take too much time, cost too much or make someone else upset. Sure those things could be true but they are all things that are beyond your control. Put another way they are the external reasons we find so that we don’t have to admit that we are afraid that we might be the ones to make us fail. It’s almost always possible to find a way to make space in your life if you really want to. Really, we’re afraid that we just aren’t good enough.

First come the what ifs

The next step is complex and layered, this is when you start coming up with all the things that could go wrong but probably won’t. This is were you imagine all sorts of complicating factors that could come up. What if your kids get sick, you land that big project at work or the weather is terrible this spring. What if the race is cancelled, you get injured or you can’t finish on the big day. You might even stop to consider how a potential asteroid impact could effect your future plans. Technically all those things really could happen but it’s not very likely is it? We do this once again to make not doing something seem like the safe and reasonable choice. I encourage you to go look up the actual statistics of some of these things. I bet everything you’re giving all this mental energy to is at least 80% likely not to happen!

Then the excuses start

Once you’ve thought about ALL the possible things that could go wrong you’ll start to develop those into actual excuses. They’ll all start with “I would but” … The truth is it’s pretty easy to make excuses to mentally get you out of something. Hell, even tonight I made the excuse that I was too, tiered and already relaxed to get up and just start the dishwasher. We all do that sort of thing on the daily (which is totally normal and reasonable) so we’re pretty good at it. That’s not to say every excuse is escapable (like injury) but most of them do have work arounds. By the end of this process you usually have one excuse fully developed and ready to share. You might even totally believe it by now! 

What if it snows on race day?

Just starting something hard is hard

Making a change in your life is a really hard thing to do no matter what it is. Most of the things we want to try take time and that time has to come from somewhere. That could be sleeping time, working time, relaxing time or fun time. It’s hard to start something new because none of those times are filled with things we want to give up. Plus whatever you’re starting is going to take some self discipline which studies have proven time and time again isn’t easy to keep up long term while habits are. So there is a pretty long time at the outset before your new endeavor becomes a habit where actually doing it is really, really hard! 

Beyond time though making a change and starting something new is mentally tough work. It’s almost like a new aspect of your life or a new challenge causes a bit of cognitive dissonance. In other words your new challenge doesn’t fit with the way you currently see yourself and that makes you surprisingly uncomfortable. Imagine you’ve long been a serious runner and that you do occasionally ride a bike and swim for fun. You can really doubt yourself and keep telling yourself that you could still never do a triathlon. When really all you need to be a triathlete is to be able to swim, ride a bike and run. The training will take care of the rest.

If someone’s body did it yours can too

The truth about Natasha that inspired this post is that she was doing ironmans about 5-8 years ago, she’s still super fit but she’s just not all that much of a runner now. So she’s basically the best case scenario for a ‘non-runner’ to do an ultra. Here’s the thing no one just gets up one day and runs a half marathon or a full. It takes months of dedicated training and probably years to do it really well. But anyone can do it … if they put in the work! My favorite example of this is my senior citizen mom and step dad who were able to run a 5k after completing a couch to 5k program in 10 weeks and both ran 10k’s within their first year running. It doesn’t mean you’ll go as fast as someone else or progress at the same rate but you too can do it. A lot of people don’t realize that there is a specific process that goes into getting ready, each step is outlined. For a lot of events (like running and cycling) the science of what it takes is clearly studied. It might take you longer to clear step 1, get to the halfway point or get ready for race day but if someone out there did it, you can too!

Finish line happy face at the 5k!

Avoiding embarrassment 

We’ve all had plenty of embarrassing moments. I’ve certainly had a few. I once taught an entire lecture with toilet paper stuck in my skirt, I’ve backed into a few immovable objects and lost my top on a crowded beach among other things. The truth is I forget a lot of them because I moved on. Those cliche super embarrassing stories pretty quickly become a story you tell about yourself for a laugh. What I don’t want to admit to are the few times I did something really selfish or stupid that really hurt someone’s else life for a long time after. Beating around the bush I regret all the things I did that made other people worry about me and the stuff I did that really hurt someone else. All that other falling down, bodily functions and putting my foot in my mouth stuff wasn’t really a big deal.

Just say something does go terribly wrong, say you even poop your pants in public, life will go on. Just ask Paula Radcliffe! Soon enough it will even be a funny story you tell. There comes a point in your life when you’ve been embarrassed a few times that you realize it really isn’t a big deal and you don’t even avoid situations that might lead to an embarrassing moment anymore. So if you’re worried about that don’t be. Whatever you’re worried about probably won’t happen and even if it does it won’t take you long to laugh about it.

So what if you do fail?

In thinking about this a lot lately I’ve realized that even if you do fail there is a very good chance you’ll still be further ahead for trying. Just say I decided to train for my first full marathon (or just go for it one day like Natasha) and I had to quit. If I trained for it I would surely be in the best running shape of my life, I’m sure I would learn a thing or two about endurance running in the process and probably a bit about myself. I’m sure I would also know how to prepare better for next time. If I didn’t complete the run after skipping too much training there is a really good chance I would still break my record for longest run ever and that’s something. So a DNF really wouldn’t be a total loss. If you take on or scale up on a new project at work and it doesn’t go as you’d hoped you might very well still be money ahead. You again probably learned a lot in the process and that effort may get you new clients. I guess what I’m saying is that even if you do ‘fail’ at something rarely do you get nothing from the experience. A much wiser person than me said, “we learn far more from our failures than our successes.” 

Start line serious face for the 10k!

It all comes down to the fact that if you never try you’ll never know what you can truly accomplish. Because we are all human with real human lives there are many factors that go into how we feel and deal with the idea of a new challenge. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Realize that you are falling into that all too common trap of talking yourself out of even attempting something. Instead of letting fear, what ifs and excuses rule you decision think about the possibilities and the progress that still exists if it doesn’t work out completely. Just being aware that we are constantly taking yourself out of something without even realizing it can be helpful to be aware of. What was the hardest thing you’ve every talked yourself into trying? What are you talking yourself out of right now? Leave it in the comments below!

4 thoughts on “Why Do We Talk Ourselves Out of Even Trying?

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  1. I moved out of country. It’s been a struggle but I’m trying. I also started running after telling myself for years I hated it. Yep, I don’t hate it. 🙂

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  2. My ex came back and now we are happier than ever. Your Magian was realistic, positive and heartfelt. I hope others find you when they are in need of break up and or relationship advice. I ended up back together with my boyfriend and we are now engaged and in a happy and healthy relationship together.if case you need help, contact Magian A’idah ( mag1an@protonmail.ch )

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    1. I didn’t even think about relationship stuff when I was writting this but it does totally apply. PS my partner and I sorta took a break for a year too. Now we’re married! good luck to both of you!

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