How to Move Beyond "But they said"

"But they said…" How often has every one of us said just these words?

The unknown, all-powerful, omnipresent ‘they,' who seem to have an opinion and pass judgement on everything that each of us may, or may not do.

Easy as it may be to say ‘just ignore it' or ‘why are you listening to them', or even the ever popular ‘if THEY said to jump off a bridge, would you do it'? The practice is a lot harder. It's human nature. All of us, consciously or subconsciously want to be liked, appreciated and respected by everyone around us and failing to realise that it is pretty close to impossible for everyone to like you, or even to approve of things you do, is probably the biggest mistake that any of us can make.

This reality hit me hard recently while talking to a friend who was feeling a bit down in the dumps. A runner, and Nike athlete, she has been training hard for several years to improve her coveted ‘PB' or personal best marathon time. Over the last few months, circumstances have led her to dedicate perhaps slightly less time to her training, which basically means she still trains on average at least twice as much as any person who works out just to stay fit.

As a result, her personal best has stayed where it was about a year ago, at a time that is unachievable by most, and one that even those who train regularly can only aspire to.

Unfortunately for this lovely girl, ‘they' have a different song to sing. It was heartbreaking to hear her tell me how she felt that her training was inadequate in comparison to those around her and how she was so badly affected by ‘them' saying that her personal best time should have reduced significantly over the last year.

As a result of the constant comments and negative reinforcement she was receiving from those around her, my friend continued to get more and more disheartened, questioning her dedication to her chosen activity, her commitment to her training and most significantly her fitness and ability.

The worst consequence was that she started to forget why she loves to run. Every training session started to become a chore, and every run, from the shortest 3km to a gruelling 25km marathon preparatory one went from being something she looked forward to with focus and happiness to something she dreaded and came away from feeling inadequate and simply not enough.

It broke my heart to listen to her story, and despite being truly touched and honoured that she turned to me to seek my advice about training and increasing her fitness levels, the first thought that came to my mind was to try and pull her off this path of defeat and dejection.

I don't really know where my words came from, but I started to tell her that she was absolutely beautiful just as she was and that those who thought and said otherwise were coming from a place of envy and portraying their own insecurities. I tried to reassure her that she had no reason to question her commitment or her fitness levels, and while I would be thrilled to help her work towards achieving any goals she may have, it was in her best interest to forget the records and targets for a while and to simply remember why loves to run.

One method I suggested was to go for a run without any of the gadgets most of us use to track our workouts these days. Leave the Apple Watch or Fitbit at home and just run for the sake of running. No distance, no timing to strive for, but just to feel the pumping of her legs against the ground and the rush of adrenaline and endorphins that come at the end.

In addition, I talked her through some nutrition tips, and strength and stamina building exercises she could undertake to tide her over as she manoeuvred through her own circumstances, just so that she could stay on top of her health and not succumb to exhaustion or fatigue. I would like to believe that when I hung up the phone, I left her feeling a little more positive and slightly more sure of herself.

I got my answer about a month later when we met for her to hand me an invitation to her wedding. I asked her how she was feeling, and the smile on her face said it all. She had reconnected with her love for running and was feeling fitter and stronger than before. A few weeks after her wedding (she made a beautiful, glowing bride!)

women running in a marathon

I saw her at the finish line of the gruelling 42km Mumbai full marathon, hand in hand with her husband, and smiling wider than ever before. I have to admit, it made me a tiny bit emotional to see that change and to know, that I had in some way played a minuscule role in reminding someone that no matter what ‘they' say, they are perfect and complete just the way they are!

Disha is a freelance writer and editor with over a decade of writing experience and a passion for fitness, dance and all things adventurous. She is also a luxury aficionado, an avid reader and traveller and a self-confessed shopaholic.

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