Most of us probably realize that we make our own obstacles. One of things I used to say about our clients at my old job is that they make their own problems and they are good at what they do! It’s not only true about our clients (it was a bankruptcy law firm) but it also reminded me that I’m pretty dang good at it too!
We are really good at getting in our own way: when we buy things at the grocery store that we know we shouldn’t be eating; when we schedule things right in the middle of our workout appointments; when we choose restaurants and other eateries that we know won’t have a great selection for us. We make things harder for ourselves when we do these things. Sometimes we make these decisions in a fit of optimism- “I can buy my kids the Oreos and not eat any!”; “I can meet my friends for drinks and make one beer last all night!” When we are successful, we feel really proud of ourselves and that adds to our growing confidence, but the reverse is also true: failure usually means we come down on ourselves pretty hard. Normally, we don’t just criticize ourselves- we annihilate ourselves! It isn’t just that we were ‘foolishly optimistic’ in thinking we could say no to the Oreos, drinks or whatever: we were stupid! how could I be so weak?! how could I think I could say no when I never have before?! what’s wrong with me?! and so on and so on.
Yes, because we could not say no and stop eating the Oreos, we are the worst person on the planet. Talk about drama! We eat a whole sleeve of cookies and we treat ourselves like something the cat threw up! I know: I’ve done it to myself more times than I can count- pointing the finger at the woman in the mirror here. I have had to slap myself metaphorically to put things in perspective. It’s cookies, not nuclear weapons! I’m not roasting puppies or running over helpless little old ladies! Frankly, I don’t think I treat myself as badly as some of my fitness friends do: the things they say about themselves when they screw up are shocking and a more than a little scary sometimes. Maybe it’s because I have more distance on the situation than they do and I am not emotionally tied to their mistake, but yikes!
The truth is that we are much harder on ourselves than we are on others. The same friend who says horrible things about herself will be genuinely sympathetic and encouraging to someone else who made a similar mistake, and I think that’s key in learning to deal with our own failings. If you can’t say it to someone else, don’t say it to yourself! That is pretty much the philosophy that I am using with myself now. When I screw something up, #1) I try to learn from it; and #2) I don’t beat myself up over it. Yeah, we blew it- so why did we blow it and how can we move forward from here? I treat myself like I am one of my fitness friends. I admit, it was a little weird at first (it still is!) but so far, I think it’s working. I’m not letting myself wallow in recrimination, self-pity and melodrama. Instead I am focusing on moving forward. In a way, it forces me to stay positive, focus on my goals and making the next best choice.
One of the other things that happens to us when we keep crushing our own spirits because we don’t meet our expectations is that it makes us afraid to try anything new or different. This whole aspect of ‘Fearing New and Different’ usually gets overlooked in all the drama we heap on ourselves, but this is just as important as not burying ourselves in criticism. I came across a quote from Johnny Depp this morning: “I like the challenge of trying different things and wondering whether it’s going to work or if I’m going to fall flat on my face.” We don’t grow if we don’t push our boundaries. If we stay in our safe little routine, all we do is stagnate safely . I am a good one for loving my little routine: if it’s 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, I’m at my water aerobics! If’s it’s a Sunday afternoon, I’m usually at the grocery store! et cetera, et cetera. Being a routine-a-holic works for me and against me: it’s harder to get me out of my safe routine, so I am less likely to get into trouble, but at the same time, it keeps me locked into doing things one way all the time. Trying something new, whether a new food, new exercise plan, or new way of eating means I risk screwing up. I might not like the new thing, or I might be really bad at it, or it could really derail the progress I’ve already made. We’ve learned to fear failure and I don’t think it’s a good thing. New = risk while routine = safe. It looks like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? Stay safe and keep doing what works for you! Most of us only try new things when our safe routine stops working for us. (OMG! Now what do I do?!)
But staying safe really does mean stagnation and stagnation is boring. How can you know if you are good at something or even if you like it until you try it? What keeps most of us from trying new or different is that fear of failure again. What if I screw it up? What if I don’t like it? What if I’m really bad at it? Here’s one: what if you like it even if you are really bad at it? A couple of months ago, I took a belly dancing class and I discovered a few things about myself: 1) I am really not coordinated!; 2) I really really suck at belly dancing!; and 3) I am so damn stubborn, I went out and bought a DVD after the class ended! I definitely fell flat on my face with that one! But even though I stink at it, I like it. It’s a good exercise (the reason I took it) and if I quit now, I lose the opportunity to get better. I also learned that it helps my balance, coordination and flexibility. I don’t have to great at it to enjoy it; I just have to keep trying! Even though I was probably one of the worst dancers in the class (if not the worst!) I learned a lot and I had a lot of fun while I was dancing badly. I was also a little embarrassed, a little frustrated and really sorry when the class ended. Hence, getting the DVD and I’ll be signing up in the fall for the next class. Yes, it’s challenging, and yes, it means I figuratively fell on my face, but it also means I challenged myself. I refuse to be sorry for learning new things, for trying something different or for failing to be perfect. Odds are I will keep pushing my boundaries. Another favorite Johnny Depp quote that works here? “Now bring me that horizon!”