Banishing “Never Enough”
I was always bothered by USATriathlon’s motto: “Never Enough,” which they finally dropped a few years ago. Most of the public is sedentary and views any form of exercise as unusual. Anyone who trains in three sports simultaneously must be mentally deranged. I spend a great deal of time with non-athletes presenting the advantages of organizing one’s life to include exercise, and sharing research that indicates relationships benefit when one does. While the majority of triathletes lead balanced, healthy lives, there is a dark side to our sport and there are triathletes whose belief in “Never Enough” may be destroying them.
Each reader probably knows at least one of these persons— they are charming, energetic and often gifted. They are always ready for a run, ride or workout; in fact, there is often little else in their lives. They seem unable to rest an injury unless an orthopedist places it in a cast. They don’t trust training with a heartrate monitor, and rest days are not part of their schedule. Their circle of friends are limited to athletes and intimate relationships that interfere with training are abandoned. In many ways they may look, train or compete like anyone else, but they go beyond reason and balance. The joys of their victories always seem short-lived, and “Never Enough” is a driving monster that runs their lives.
A high degree of organization, compulsivity and attention to details is certainly an asset in becoming a triathlete— or a physician, an accountant or many chosen endeavors. But these individuals present an enduring pattern that leads to “clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning” (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-IV,1994). They no longer choose to exercise; the need to exercise determines their choices.
In medical settings, these persons often carry labels such as anorexia nervosa, bulemia or obsessive compulsive disorder. In my clinical practice, I find a more helpful framework for understanding their experiences offered by Dr. Dick Schwartz, a Chicago psychologist specializing in eating disorders. Schwartz holds that we are not one static personality, but a collection of subpersonalities or parts. This is easily demonstrated if you stop and think of how you felt at the completion of your first race. There was not just one emotion, but a collection of them. A part of you was ecstatic, a part relieved, a part satisfied in your accomplishment, and perhaps even a part disappointed that you didn’t do better. When we are in balance and working well, these various parts are a collective resource that operates like a well balanced family. Each participant (or part) feels valued, respects the others, and contributes to the well being of the whole. All parts are valuable and want to be constructive. There are circumstances, however, when external forces and prolonged inner stress push them to extreme and destructive roles.
In the out of control athlete, there is a part that knows what is best for health and well being. It knows one is risking serious injury, osteoporosis, infertility and losing relationships. But it is as though the monster of “Never Enough” drives their actions— tricking, seducing or frightening them into ignoring all other parts. The process of healing occurs only by acknowledging the part screaming to exercise at all cost, but then listening to, and giving greater weight to that part that is the voice of balance.
- Are you trapped or seduced by “Never Enough”?
- Do you regularly exercise seven days a week, with no rest days?
- When injured, do you “work through the pain” rather than taking time off from exercise?
- Do you experience intense fear of becoming fat?
- If you are a woman, have you experienced the absence of three consecutive menstrual cycles?
- Are there times that you feel as though you cannot control your eating?
- Has exercise caused significant stress in your relationships, work or family?
If you answer “yes” to any of the above questions, I urge you to seek consultation with a qualified professional. If you have a friend you think may be out of control, share this article with them and express your concern for their well being. Look for a therapist or counselor that has experience with athletes or people with eating disorders. Cognitive therapy, strategic or solution focused therapy, family therapy, 12 step support groups and certain medication therapies are generally the treatment of choice. Be warned that traditional insight therapies are notoriously ineffective with these difficulties.
It will be a challenge; but hey, you’re a triathlete. By studying the monster, you can recognize how it works its spell on you. Study the times you have successfully fought it— no matter how brief or small— and you will discover the keys to build upon. You can reclaim your life, banish the monster, and relax knowing “Enough Is Enough.”
© Copywrite 1997, Dr. Charlie Brown. All rights reserved.