top of page

Painless Gain

Updated: Feb 23, 2022

Energy I. Watercolor on paper. Discovery Bay, Hong Kong. April 2020.

The Olympic Games will be starting next week. Ever since I was a child I remember being riveted to the television, to watch the drama unfolding. I loved the ecstasy of triumph and the agony of defeat.

We love winners

Just the idea of being able to hold it together on the world stage, with such poise and grace feels daunting. I’ve loved and admired so many of those who performed thrilling feats. In 1976 Nadia Commaneci was the first gymnast ever to score a perfect 10 at the Games. She was fourteen years old - only 4 years older than me at the time. Track and field star Jackie Joyner-Kersee won the heptathlon in 1984 and went on to get consecutive gold medals over a storied career.

I love a good story as much as anyone else, but over the years I’ve become more skeptical of the media’s coverage. Michael Phelps was the media darling when he won six gold medals for swimming, but then he was punished for his fame. I don’t know the whole story behind the news headlines, but I’m fairly certain that it was much more nuanced than the coverage allowed.

Looking back I’m realizing that I had internalized messages over the years that didn’t ultimately serve me. Messages like: Perfectionism is desirable, and The only way to win is by pushing your body harder.

Out with perfectionism

Doesn’t everyone want to score a perfect 10? 100%? A+? The goal or aspiration is neutral in and of itself. But our thoughts can trip us up. Thoughts like: I’m scared it won’t be perfect so I’m scared to start working on it. It’s impossible. I’ll never get there so why bother. I just need to work on it for another xx hours to get it perfect.

I am good enough already without having done anything.

I have been a recovering perfectionist for at least 2 decades. These days I can usually catch myself, but sometimes that part of my brain can still suck me in. Even now when I’m writing, it’s hard to let go of the idea that I have to do more or better to prove that I’m good enough. Hard to believe that maybe I am good enough already without having done anything.

And what I’m learning is that the energy is different. When I’m coming from that proving energy it’s anxious and fearful. When I believe that I am already good enough, I can share from a place of abundance.

No pain, no gain

To be fair, I’m pretty sure I learned this from Jane Fonda and not the Olympics per se, but fair to say that it’s been a prevalent message of the fitness industry for decades, and continues to be the hallmark of many training regimens.

As a primary care physician I’ve encountered few athletes training and competing at or near the top of their sport, and I can vouch for the toll that that kind of dedication takes on their bodies and minds. They are usually training 8-10 hours daily, with rigid discipline around nutrition and sleep. And many athletes will do so much more to get into top form.

Again, I’m all admiration for this kind of grit. But I’m not sure that has to apply to everyday fitness for everyone. I am not sure that the “No pain, no gain” messages serves us when we are trying to encourage people to move their bodies.

We can absolutely exercise in ways that actually help to reduce pain and stiffness, rather than creating more pain. Moving our bodies in smart and gentle ways like Essentrics gets you to the same place without injury.

What works for you?

Everyone’s story is different. Our bodies are not machines. They are more like gardens that need to be watched and tended. What suits one person may not work at all for another, and that’s okay. The only way to know is to try different things and figure out what works best for you. Every day can be different and even every moment. Learning to tune in to your body is a valuable skill.

When we become attuned to how our brains are functioning we become aware of our energy level, alertness, focus. No one can know better than you what is working for your body.



Related Posts

See All


bottom of page