There is a fine line to walk between “I can do better” and “I never do it right.”
The first is setting a high standard for myself and having goals that push beyond my comfort zone. The second is just self-defeating crap.
I know that, and yet, I find myself so easily sliding from “I can do better” into its less-savory cousin.
This is what we call in my family being a Judgy McJudgeface. Nothing is good enough. Nothing is done soon enough, or well enough, or pretty enough, or hard enough, or completely enough.
So for example, I ran in the Torrance County 50+ Games, but I could have done better. I could have run farther, or I could have practiced harder. I could have dressed for the weather. I could have never picked up a cigarette and smoked it all those decades ago.
I went to the gym and worked out with my daughter last week, but I could have done better. I mean, we worked out and all, but the last time I did box jumps I did a hundred of those suckers and this time I could only do about a dozen. My feet hurt but I could have pushed harder on the treadmill. I could have tried harder and I could have lifted heavier weights. We could have stayed ten more minutes.
Over the weekend I made some time for crazy dancing, but I could have done better. I could have done it harder, I could have grabbed the weights instead of just dancing and having fun. I could have continued dancing as I did my housework instead of taking a dance break from my housework. I could have added squats and lunges. I could have sweat more.
I prepared my lunches for the week—one of my healthy favorites, sweet potatoes and red chile, but I could have done better. I could have provided myself more of a variety instead of just making one thing. If I had started meal prep earlier, I could have done a better job. I could have also prepared snacks, but I didn’t.
Even in writing this column—I could do better. I could get to more classes, I could interview more people, and I could make it more interesting. I could do a better job writing out this litany of complaints.
I think you get the gist.
The surprising thing (to me) is that this is me following my “no beating myself up” rule. Wait for it: I could do a better job not beating myself up. I could quit being Judgy McJudgeface all day long.
Here’s the odd part. If I meet you in the gym, and you are doing whatever effort you are putting out, whether that is training for a marathon, or trying to reach your own toes, I am going to be your biggest cheerleader, celebrating your baby steps and high-fiving you over your accomplishments. I won’t be telling you how paltry your effort was or how you could have done it better. When it comes to other people, I understand that your effort is sufficient. It’s when I turn my gaze on my own efforts that I find them lacking.
In some ways, I get it. I have a high standard for myself and I am always striving to be better. I know without a shadow of a doubt that I could do more, and I could do better.
That can still be true without me beating myself up over what I did actually do. At least I think it can.
My strategy is the same as it is for eating and portion control: Be mindful. Pay attention. Don’t run on autopilot. So much of that self-talk is just me running over the grooves in my mind one more time—the original broken record.
Years ago I learned an interesting fact. In the same way that water will follow the same path it took before, even in a dry riverbed, our thoughts—the physical, electrical firing of neurons in our brains—will also follow the path of least resistance. That means it’s easier for my brain to think the same thing I thought yesterday than for me to change that habitual thought.
But by paying attention, I can reroute them.
For example: I could have run farther. True. Always true. I mean, I haven’t even run a mile without stopping yet. But if I derail that thought (including all of the thoughts that come along with it like remoras looking for a free meal on the belly of a shark), I am rewriting my own neural pathways, rewiring my own brain.
Sounds hard, right? But it isn’t any harder than getting myself to the gym. So the new train of thought might be something like this: I could have run farther. True, but I’m going farther today than I did yesterday. True, and I went farther than I thought I would. True, and I lapped everyone who is still on the couch. True, and I will keep my goals high and outside my comfort zone. True, but who cares? I’m working out.
My most effective help on that score has been my daughter, aka my gym buddy. She says that stuff out loud to me, and in fact, is one of the reasons I’ve been paying more attention to Judgy McJudgeface.
So once again, it all comes back to the plan. Find activities that are fun. Do them. Eat real food. Not too much. No beating myself up.
It’s not so hard.
What are your biggest challenges in getting healthy and fit? You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-286-1212, or join my Facebook group, “I’m Losing It!” I’d love to hear from you.