What Are You So Afraid Of?

Fear is the Mind Killer Geekspiration

When I started out trying to lose weight, I had no idea how much of a mental process it would be. I studied up on nutrition and kilocalories and exercise physiology. But I didn’t focus too much on the mental side of things.

I mean…eat less + workout more = weight loss.


Well, kinda. Sorta. Only in the most basic terms.

Now, I’m a few years older, a few pounds lighter, and a few miles wearier, and I understand that success in weight loss and fitness is as much a mental game as anything else.

And the main thing that destroys any chance at that success is fear. Frank Herbert was right–fear is the mind-killer. But it’s also the run-killer. The lift-killer. The goal-killer. The happiness-killer. The you-killer. 

What Are You Afraid Of?

Let’s take running as an example. Running, despite being a high-impact sport, is all about where your headspace is.

From simply getting your shoes on to finishing a run, the challenge isn’t how far or how fast your legs can take you, it’s about being in the right place with your brainyparts.

Just think about it this way, running isn’t complicated. It’s basic and fundamental and not challenging to get right. You’re putting one foot in front of the other for an indeterminate length of time.

So why is it so hard?

Because you’re thinking about it.

You’re thinking that you’re going to be running for, let’s say, 30 solid minutes. You’re thinking that your shoes are too tight (or too loose). You’re thinking about your feet slamming into the pavement and kind of jarring your knees.

You’re watching out for branches and rocks on the trail. You’re thinking about how thirsty you are. You’re thinking about how your shorts are riding up. You’re thinking about how bright the sun is. You’re thinking about how chapped your lips are.

You’re thinking about how much your lungs burn as you gulp for as much oxygen as you can to maybe, possibly, potentially alleviate that stitch in your side.

You’re thinking about how long it’s been and how fast you’ve been running. Only it’s been three minutes and you’ve run 0.33 miles. You have ten times that left to run.

Screw. That.

But you power through. You finish. You’re drenched in sweat, your muscles ache, and you’re wheezing for breath. But you finish your run. You stretch your legs, and you go inside to grab a glass of ice-cold water. You collapse into a salt-encrusted heap on the couch to binge watch Gilmore Girls on Netflix.

Fast forward two days later, and it’s time to run again.

Only…ugh. It’s 5:30am. You remember all that nastiness from last time. You’re still sore. Your mouth is already parched from not drinking enough. You’re tired, and I mean, the sun isn’t even out yet. And 30 minutes is just such a long time to be doing any one, single thing.

Don’t get me wrong–you’re making excuses. But more than that, you’re afraid.

Afraid that last time was a fluke. Afraid that you’ll feel as bad as you did last time. Afraid that if you get out of your comfort zone right that very second you’ll feel as bad as you did in that first third of the first mile last time. You’re afraid that feeling of adjustment (that we all feel each and every time, by the way) won’t go away this time, that you’ll feel that initial terribleness for the entire length of the run.

Nevermind the nice runner’s high you basked in while watching TV after your last run. Nevermind the feeling of accomplishment you felt at pushing through the soreness. Nevermind the extra snacks you allowed yourself for running. Nevermind that you finished that 30-minutes 0.25 miles farther along than you did the run before it.

No, you don’t remember the good stuff. You focus on the bad because you’re afraid of that temporary discomfort you felt as your body warmed up.

Never Fear

It’s in our nature to fear pain, to fear things that make us uncomfortable. I feel like it’s humanity’s default setting to seek out the path of least resistance and most comfort.

That’s why we focus on the negative when it comes to exercise and fitness. It’s all self-preservation. It is hard-wired into us. Fear is hard-wired into us because otherwise we do stupid things that injure and/or kill us.

But if you want to be a runner, to succeed at weight loss, to make any gains toward your fitness goals, you have to mentally push past that genetic predisposition to fear. You have to learn the difference between the pain of injury and adjustment, the difference between laziness and hating an activity.

Side note: if you find that you truly hate the activity–like running or lifting–try something else–like tennis, swimming, or bodyweight work. Fitness is about fun and positivity. Don’t waste your time if you hate doing something. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to weight loss and fitness.

You have to accept that fear of discomfort. You have to understand that fear. You have to weigh the options. Are your goals worth feeling like a stuff, shuffling robot for a few minutes? Are you okay with being sweaty and gritty and gasping for a few breaths if it gets you closer to where you want to be? Are 30 minutes of hard work worth a couple extra items on your dinner plate?

Everything’s a tradeoff.

Because you know what? Running sucks. Sometimes I hate it. I don’t like being jarred for miles on end and gasping for breath on super humid days. Every single day I walk outside or hop on the treadmill, I’m afraid of how it’s going to make me feel for those first few (or last few) minutes. I’m afraid I’ll hurt my hip again. I’m afraid I’ll have an asthma attack.

I’m so afraid of my overall distance that simply putting on running shoes and taking that first step is almost debilitating, nearly overwhelming.

And it never gets any easier. That fear is always going to be there. That fear of something being hard is never going to go away. Because running is always going to be hard.

What you have to learn to succeed at any of your fitness goals is how to understand that fear and not let it overwhelm you. You have to take that fear, realize that it’s a normal response, and then turn it into something useful.

You just have to be aware that you’re afraid, and you have to realize that we are all afraid of something. That’s what makes us human. We are all scared. We all hate discomfort and pain and terribleness in our lives.

Fear is a part of us all. But we get to choose whether or not it is our mind-killer.

So…who wants to go running?


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  1. Jenn

    Well, when you put it that way… LOL!

    Running can suck. A lot of things can. But there’s such a feeling got bada$$ery when it’s right. That’s what I hold on to, in order to get myself up and out the door 🙂

    • B.J. Keeton

      Yep, there’s nothing like that feeling of being a badass to make me want to run more. That’s how I keep adding distance, actually.

  2. Darlene

    As someone returning to half training after injury, pharaoh therapy, surgery, and more physical therapy, I’m so glad to *see * I’m not alone in my trepidation. You tell yourself you aren’t. You read, you hear, but nothing beats affirmation

    This April will mark two years since my lifestyle change and my weight loss of nearly 50 lbs. In June, I will be able to say I’ve been a runner for two years. In August, a year since I ran my first half and told asthma to suck it.

    Despite all the successes, the little voice in my head never feels intimidated enough to pipe down and stfu, permanently. It reminds me of how much wearing a brace for 13.1 sucks, how breathing like you’re sucking air through a straw is really distracting, and interferes with you being as fast as the next person.

    In fact, that voice, that inherent inclination to be safe and not look towards 26.2, is the same one that screams “FEED THE FAT GIRL! DO IT! DO IT !” each and every time I pass a Dunkin Donuts. I wonder how long it will be, before I can stare down a cream – filled pastry, as I finish licking my fingers with the confidence that one won’t bring back 50 lbs?

    The truth is, I don’t think that fear will ever go away – hooray! Let it stay. Let me use it to push myself towards my sneakers, out into the snow, and on to more races. I’ll use fear as a not so gentle reminder of how magnificent life can be if we don’t let it call all the shots.

  3. Cassi

    I don’t run because I have weak ankles…the Doc called it extreme laxity. Also, just the up & down movement (applies to jacks and any plyo moves) give me a headache.

    • B.J. Keeton

      Running isn’t for everyone. I can’t do plyo stuff either because of weak knees, so lunges and lots of leaps and jumps are impossible for me. We all just have to adjust and see what works for us.

  4. GinaB @ Mirror Watching

    You are right. We fear anything that is going to make us uncomfortable and that is new. I try to remind myself when fear talks that I’ve run over this hill before and I will do it again.

    • B.J. Keeton

      I do that every single time I hit a specific hill in my neighborhood. It’s awful. Sometimes I turn away, but most of the time, it really is “you did this two days ago. Do it again.” That keeps me going.

  5. The Frugal Exerciser

    I can’t run anymore because I have arthritis in my knees but I love biking outdoors in the summer. You are right that you must find something that you will continue on a long term basis. If you don’t like exercising maybe take up a sport like volleyball or take up dancing like salsa or ballroom. #wowlinkup

    • B.J. Keeton

      I wish I had the bike and area to go biking. I love seeing the trails and stuff on foot, and I can only imagine what it would be like on a bike. But yeah, you’re right–being able to go long term is most important. It doesn’t have to be typical “exercise,” and I keep trying to convince some people I know of that.

  6. April @ RunTheGreatWideSomewhere

    What an awesome post. And super relevant for me right now. I did something (strain, pull, who knows?) to my calf about six weeks ago and ran through it for a month and then decided to rest up before some races. And it still hurt sometimes. I freaked myself out and was afraid to run at all for a few weeks, but I got out there for a few miles today and once I got past the fear of being injured, it was just fine. But you’re right, the fear of discomfort, of a bad run or of getting hurt is my biggest hurdle for lacing up my running shoes! Thanks for linking up with us.

    • B.J. Keeton

      Thanks for stopping by, April. I hope your calf gets to doing better. My hip still aches sometimes, too, but I ease up and realize I’m no Superman, and I can get hurt. The fear of being permanently sidelined keeps me going pretty easy.

  7. Aimee

    There’s a phrase that gets thrown around alot at ultra races, “Embrace the suck.” You know it’s going to hurt, you know it’s not going to be easy, but you also know that it’s going to be worth it in the end. We shouldn’t let our fears hold us back. Thanks for sharing!

    • B.J. Keeton

      That’s actually one of the reasons I don’t know if I’ll ever do an ultra. I haven’t been able to get my mind in the pace where I can see myself wanting to do something purely for the “suck age embrace.” Maybe after I finish 26.2 a few times my brain’ll suddenly see the appeal.

  8. Diatta @ Femme Fitale Fit Club

    I want to GO running and you are right. Get your mind right – mind over matter because that is what it took to get me to finish those last intervals at 6 mph at 4 incline. Who knew a minute could feel so long? #wowlinkup

    • B.J. Keeton

      If I ever go above a 3 incline for even 30 seconds, the time lengthens and takes easily 10x as long. #stupidincline

  9. jill conyers

    I love running, the good the bad and the ugly. There’s definitely more good 🙂

    • B.J. Keeton

      I totally agree. The good far outweighs any of the bad for me. Except when I push too hard an injure myself. 😉

  10. heather heinlein

    Great read. I put off getting into shape for so long because I was afraid. Thanks for sharing #wowlinkup


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