The Whiner’s Circle

Guess what?  It’s ok to forgive yourself for whining.  In fact, it just might help your motivation.

Welcome to the Whiner’s Circle! And don’t worry- you’re not alone.  Been there myself plenty of times during my journey to fitness.  I used to beat myself up about my lack of motivation when I didn’t feel like getting out of bed at all or putting my best effort into my morning workout.  I figured I couldn’t be the only one so I investigated the neuroscientific data and found actionable study results that helped me – and they can help you too.

Judging Others

The judgment I usually make about whiners is that they’re lazy and they lack motivation. The truth is that when I make a judgment about other people being lazy I’m really judging myself – expressing self-loathing for that part of me that wants to be lazy and whiny.

So instead of letting negative thoughts about myself swirl around in my head, I decided to be more honest with myself and build whining into my interval training. Yep, you heard that right. Whining can be part of High Intensity Interval Training!   The beauty of interval training is that anything can be an interval – so consider the whining intervals a self-compassionate  mental break.


While self esteem is about how you evaluate yourself, self compassion is about how you treat yourself.  The latter is much simpler to practice since it doesn’t involve an in-depth analysis of your attributes and flaws, or an assessment of personal responsibility.  Just be as kind to yourself as you would to someone you love who is similarly suffering.  Studies show it may be even more beneficial than self-esteem in attenuating negative reactions to life events.

People who practice self-compassion are better equipped to deal with failure, and they readily recognize that others suffer as well.  “Although recognising one’s connections with the shared human experience might not reduce our reactions to the original problem, it does remind us not to personalise what has happened or to conclude that our problems are somehow worse than everyone else’s”,  According to Mark Leary, Professor of Neuroscience at Duke University.

This depersonalization, one of the key components of self-compassion, is also called “non-identification” in mindfulness meditation.   In this meditation technique, the practitioner is taught to visualize his own thoughts and feelings as transient states of mind that come and go – external, and constantly changing.

Seeing your failures and feelings of inadequacy, shame and guilt in this way is a powerful antidote to self-flagellation, since none of these feelings defines the essence of who you are.  Your negative self-talk is just another state of mind floating on the river of your consciousness, and like all other states of mind they will float past you, and not ultimately define who you are.

the benefits of self-compassion extend beyond the emotional realm, to the behavioral.  Practicing self-compassion can have a significant impact on your motivation as well.  Other studies indicate that self-acceptance results in less self-destructive behavior.

If you want to get fit, I highly recommend that you absorb these ideas – learning self compassion may keep your motivation from flagging, and help you stay on track to reach your goals.  Simply being kind to yourself may make you fitter, happier, and it may even save your life.

How to Do It

Whining and kvetching

Whining and kvetching intervals built randomly into my workout in the app Seconds

I build random resting, whining and kvetching intervals  into all of my workouts.  I found that giving myself space and permission to complain, even to myself, completely changed my perspective.  Instead of beating myself up for not having enough determination and grit to persist and maintain high intensity, I give myself a break, take a rest, and forgive myself.  This mental break allows me to regroup and focus my intensity on the rest of the workout.  The negative self-talk, the “you’re not good enough” that used to swirl around in my head is gone.

I’ve started using the same techniques with my students who are learning interval training for the first time.  Most of them have never learned self-compassion.  In fact, the reason they’ve failed to stick with a fitness program in the past usually has to do with loss of motivation that stems from a deep-seated belief that they’re not really one of the “fit people”, that they’re not meant to be fit.  I felt this way my whole life and I was amazed at how many other people share the belief that they have the wrong genes, the wrong body type, or just lack the willpower.

Whine13Once they realize that they’re not suffering alone, that everyone’s motivation flags from time to time, that it’s ok to whine, complain, kvetch and forgive themselves for it, they seem to develop a kind of resilience that allows them to more easily bounce back from sub-optimal performance.   I even draw a “whiner’s circle” in the sand where they can stand when they feel like whining and complaining.  This is not to shame them but rather to allow them the space and time they need to let the negative emotions flow and forgive themselves for these feelings that we all share.  They always come back to the workout refreshed and re-motivated.



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