Alone, but not lonely

I tried to get myself into this headspace as I braced myself for the second ‘lockdown’ in Singapore from May 16 to June 13. 

The pandemic hit me like a storm, no, more like a hurricane with no end in sight. Just when I thought leaving the CAPT NUS community I had grown so fond of was the most difficult part about summer, life had greater worries for me ahead (sigh).

What to do now?

To cope with the sudden copious amount of free time, I had to find things to do. Productive things, I reminded myself. Naturally, I began to pick up hobbies which I had neglected before the semester started – arts and crafts, singing songs, and my mortal enemy: exercise.

In all honesty, I do not work out (or hit the gym, or swim, or play basketball, etc.). Take a glance, it’s not hard to tell. Every time I gear up to start, the inertia proves too much, and my YouTube search bar quickly changes from “Intense abs workout, six pack guaranteed” to “Top 10 Cafes you need to visit in Singapore”.

It took the notice of a second ‘lockdown’ in Singapore, after exhausting all alternatives, to squish the tiny voice in my head that whispered “You don’t need to exercise, you won’t see the results anyway.” I was ready – finally – to acquire the lean muscles I had parted ways with after National Service. Sadly, this little voice will prove to haunt me again and again.

Let's get physical (again)

On the beautiful Monday evening of 17th May, 2021, I put my foot down. I decided to run. Wearing the coolest singlet I had, I visited the park near my house. Indeed, I took off like the wind, passing by hoards of avid joggers that smelt like buckets of sweat. Yes, sweat – a bodily fluid I was rather unfamiliar with, except walking to the Foodcourt in the sweltering heat to dabao (takeaway) lunch. Within the first 2 minutes, I realised something was terribly wrong. My stiff thighs and breathlessness signaled to me that I was clearly not as fit as I used to be.  

The voice whispers: "This was all a mistake. Why are you so slow? You should just stop now."

I peeked at my watch. Barely 5 minutes in and I was panting like a horse. I knew I could not continue on, and I screeched to a halt. Turning around, I begrudgingly trudged back home, dragging my tired legs one after the other. I wanted to give my best. But did I really do so? I knew I could do better but my body could not take it.

Why am I so... weak?

These inescapable thoughts ran through my head. Subconsciously, I knew these were negative thoughts, but at that moment they simply made too much sense.

Now, I do want to clarify that the benefits of exercising are abundantly clear to me. The CDC (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends 30 minutes of exercise per day, with health benefits such as improving the immune system functioning as well as cognitive functioning amongst many others. 

I knew that.

So why did I stop after 5 minutes?

I believe the culprit was that little voice in my head, the one whose volume was amplified each time I failed to meet my own expectations, turning from echoes into haunting screams. Worse, the voice sounded very much like my own…

We are each our own worst critic.

Ellen Hendriksen
THAT is a cliché that will never be outdated, in my opinion. I often underestimate the consequences of negative self-talk. When my life is smooth-sailing, I tend to dismiss myself, discrediting my achievements and overlooking how far I've come. [CLICK to flip]
On the flipside, when met with unfavorable outcomes and insurmountable obstacles, I focus inwards, looking desperately for something to blame - my lack of foresight, carelessness, weaknesses etc. Admittedly, that feeling of "I deserve it (failure)" can get overwhelming.

Not surprisingly, this form of rumination is unhealthy and potentially dangerous. It is even linked to a slew of mental health related problems, such as depression. Along with our negative internal monologue, the way we interact with others may also be affected. At times when we are most mean to ourselves, we may exhibit signs of insecurity that may require more attention, affirmation and support from others. For me, criticisms wear me down – and I do recognize that – but often it is what I perceive about myself from the not-so-nice words I receive that really breaks me.

Here are some ways I have dealt with (and continue to deal with) my inner critic:

1. Catch your inner critic

Before the small whispers turn into admonishment, catch your inner critic.

Instead of:
“Why are you so weak?”

Try:
Give me a break, I already dragged my lazy body out of bed to exercise today. I am so proud of myself!”

2. Ask yourself

Are those words really something you would say to your friends or loved ones whom you care about?

Instead of:
“You are terribly unhealthy and fat, why do you even try to exercise?”

Try:
“Wow, you are doing great! Keep this up and you will be in your best shape yet!”

3. Be comforting

Talk to yourself as if you are comforting your close friend or loved one.

Instead of: 
“You can’t even do the simplest of exercises. What’s the point in trying at all? You suck.”

Try:
“You are doing so well. It is okay if you did not hit the target you set for yourself today! Get some rest and we will continue tomorrow. I want you to feel great because that is important to me. When you feel good, it makes me happy.”

Be Kind to Yourself

At the end of the day, regardless of whether you have achieved what you set out to do, or if something unfavourable comes your way, tell yourself this:

“Hi (insert your own name here), I want you to know that you did good. You have done what you could with what you have and what you know, and I am happy for you. I am so proud of you. You are enough. You matter.”

In this pandemic, I am alone but not lonely. Because I am no longer alone with my inner critic, but with my good friend instead.

How are you spending time during lockdown? I, for one, am going for a casual relaxing jog on Saturday evenings. Care to join me?

Lawrence Liang

Lawrence Liang

As a firm proponent of empathetic leadership, Lawrence believes everyone is on their own journey, each with an exciting story to tell. He is always down for a good conversation, eager to listen and ready to offer advice (should you seek).

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Last modified: June 17, 2021