The other day a client said: ‘Why are we so hard on ourselves?’ It was a throwaway comment, uttered in a humorous tone. But it’s something that deserves unpacking.
We’re hard on ourselves because we want to be. It serves us. It means we can preoccupy ourselves with self-abuse instead of creating what quietly calls us. This belief keeps perfection’s life support switch on. For years, decades even, it can gurgle on, like a radiator, keeping us hooked and somnambulant. Must. Do. Better.
Let me take you back to 1988. I had just completed my aerobics instructor’s certification, and added teaching fitness classes (sometimes three a day) to my roster of two other after-school jobs. I was seventeen, and a straight-A student.
It all looked ambitious from the outside. But inside, I was secretly crumbling under the pressure to keep it all together. No pain, no gain. I had a baby blue crop-top sweatshirt with HARD-CORE written across the front that I’d wear over my spandex leotard. I’m not even kidding.
Hard on myself was code for paying my dues. I could only be successful if I did my time. Pushed myself to the limit. Tough love. I believed this so deeply that I had it tattooed onto my psyche. Good work was hard work. Boundaries were for wimps. Fist pump for those long hours, late nights and early mornings. That’s how champions were made. I felt like a cross between Olivia Newton-John and Rocky Balboa.
I have to admit, there was mileage in that philosophy for many years.
But it never ends well, does it? At best, it means being constantly rushed, never celebrating an accomplishment (I’ve already moved on), and never really feeling bone-deep satisfaction. It’s hustling, this lifestyle. And it always feels just a wee bit desperate.
If I could say one thing to my younger self, it’d be, ‘Relax a little, honey – both your attitude, and your perm. Everything’s gonna be alright.’
Beliefs need updating. I don’t wear the shiny leotards anymore when I’m ‘getting physical.’ There’s no more terry headbands or stripy legwarmers. So why keep the belief system? Things move on.
Here’s a thought for anyone who has ever been a self-flagellator in the hopes of it making you more amazing: Instead of being pathologically preoccupied with being hard on yourself, what if you were pathologically self-compassionate?
If we applied kindness, like a balm, to all those damaged parts of ourselves, to our vulnerabilities and fears, we wouldn’t need to be so darn hard on ourselves. It simply couldn’t exist in such a loving environment. Whole parts of our belief system would become unemployed.
Then we could simply get on with creating.
I’m for redefining vulnerability as a super power. It’s a quality that makes us real. It allows us to not have our shit together 24-7.
The funny thing is, creativity, success and bone-deep satisfaction all start winging their way towards you when you pull the life-support on the self-nasties. At least they have for me.
We’re hard on ourselves to avoid the wobbly, uncertain, wonky parts of ourselves that are the portal to our heart’s desires.
My sportswear has changed from ‘Hard Core’ to ‘Just Do It.’
So has my belief system.
I’m still prone to a little Eye of the Tiger now and then. But that’s our little secret.