Head Full of Doubt, Trail Full of Promise

Take a second to conjure up an image of someone being a boss on the trails. Maybe you pictured an ultra-runner, a skilled hiker, or someone whose IG account you admire. Maybe it’s a good friend or a running group. Did you picture someone who is doing their best and is still finding their way? Did you picture yourself? If you did, good for you. If not, take a second and picture yourself on the trails. How do you feel? Happy, proud, maybe a little bit self-critical? Do you feel like you belong on the trails as much as that person you admire? Maybe you don’t feel you measure up to other runners and hikers.

These thoughts can plant seeds of doubt in our minds. It’s up to us to take those seeds and cultivate them into acceptance. “Acceptance Crops”. We’re planting an “I Am Enough” farm. Okay, that sounds really corny (get it?). I’ll stop. But seriously, let me tell you that you are enough just as you are. YOU belong on the trails. You really do. And I do, too. I didn’t always feel this way, and I still struggle with it. Being hard on ourselves or comparing ourselves is human. 

This is good in some ways. It’s good to improve, but it can also be exhausting. Because no matter how good we get, we tell ourselves we could be better.

Tom Hanks (America’s Sweetheart) said, “Some people go to bed at night thinking, ‘That was a good day.’ I am one of those who worries and asks, ‘How did I screw up today?’” If Tom Hanks, a world-renowned actor and winner of Academy Awards, struggles with self-acceptance, then we regular folks shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves for being hard on ourselves. 

Here’s the trick, taking a step back and thinking about being a little gentler with ourselves is the important part. Pushing forward, adjusting, goal setting, I’m good at that. Being okay with where I am and being proud of my accomplishments, that’s the part that I am working on. 

I had been doing well with it. I was making progress with my trail running. I was going on new trails…ones with rocks AND hills. I had started training for my first trail half marathon. I was in the zone. Then, while trail running on the day after Christmas, I stepped on a rock and sprained my ankle (great end to 2020, right?).  I have been so critical of myself since then. I have been telling myself everything from, “Why didn’t you look where you were going?” to “You are too old to trail run.” I have been my own worst critic. Everyone else has been so kind. Telling me things like, “It’s okay, you’ll come back stronger.” And “Talk to yourself like you would a friend.” I appreciate this so much, but the critical voice in my head is loud. It drowns out the positive vibes. I am trying to be a friend to myself and cheer myself on, but those negative thoughts creep on in. 

Neil Pashricha said, “The problem isn’t that we have negative thoughts in our brain. The problem is that we think we shouldn’t have negative thoughts.” He wrote the book The Happiness Equation. It’s one of my favorite books. Here’s the thing, we have negative thoughts about having negative thoughts. We think we shouldn’t have them. That we should be rays of sunshine all the time. If we can just push those negative thoughts away, everything will be better.

What if instead, we sit with those negative thoughts for a minute and wonder where these thoughts are coming from. Are those thoughts true or just fears and judgments that we have? Can we accept that those thoughts are okay and normal and still find some self-acceptance? That’s the goal, right? That’s the sweet spot. That’s where confidence and happiness live. It’s where we can push ourselves towards our goals and be realistic and satisfied. Being hard on ourselves is a baseline that we don’t have to live with. We can acknowledge it and take steps to move the dial in a more positive direction. It’s challenging and a skill that needs maintenance, so here are three tips to help move that dial:

1. Observe your thoughts and emotions– Notice when you are feeling negative and are using unkind language to yourself. Don’t shame yourself about it. Instead, take note. See if those thoughts are true. Feel the feelings and know that those feelings are okay.

2. Accept what you can’t change– beating yourself up isn’t going to make anything different. It’s only going to make you miserable. Practice acceptance and focus on the future. 

3. Celebrate small successes– looking at a long-term goal can make the small victories go unnoticed. Take a look back at where you came from. Think about the things you have done that you didn’t think you could do. You’re amazing!

Our minds are complex places to live. We have so many thoughts going all of the time.  Within minutes we can be down on ourselves and then rooting for ourselves. It’s a whirlwind in there sometimes! Just remember, your negative thoughts are human and natural. You are allowed to have them.  You are also allowed to think you are amazing and strong and capable. Being human is a rocky adventure with twists and turns just like the trails, and the path to self-acceptance can be bumpy.  Sometimes we fall, but we get back up, dust ourselves off (sometimes have months of ankle rehab) and keep on going. It’s in the ‘keeping on going’ part that’s important. 

*Thanks Avett Brothers for the title inspiration!

Johnna Norton

Johnna Norton is a physical therapist who lives in Saint Louis, Missouri with her husband and two daughters. A “later in life” runner, she started trail running in her mid 40’s and is completely hooked! She is passionate about empowering women to take up space on the trails and to use movement as a way to feel good mentally and physically.

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Trail Sisters is committed to creating opportunity and participation for women in trail running. Our content is always free to read. Consider a monthly contribution on Patreon to support Trail Sisters so we can continue to inspire, educate and empower others!


1 thought on “Head Full of Doubt, Trail Full of Promise”

  1. Ok, turns out I can’t navigate fb. Ha!
    My name is Jenna Patterson, I’m not a big believer of Social media.
    I am, however, a big believer of trail running. I’m working PT in Calgary coming from Edmonton area. I’m looking for a group to escape and hit the trails with. I have a funky schedule being pt, may I join your trail running group? I’m in SE Calgary looking to head to the mountains some
    Wednesday’s and Thursday’s and sundays for now . My only
    Social media is Strava.


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