Sometimes our expectations of ourselves are completely unrealistic. If you tend to be a perfectionist, if you fall into the Type A category, I really feel for you. I often joke that after twenty-plus years of yoga practice six days a week, I’m a 93% recovered Type A personality, 97% on a good day. I spent years beating myself up, and I can still fall prey to that tendency if I’m feeling tired, tested, or vulnerable.
There are good things about doing your very best all the time. That’s a great way to move through the world, and it really helps when it comes to putting action behind your intentions, but if you set the bar at perfection, you’re in for trouble, because no one is perfect, and you really don’t want to walk around feeling disappointed in yourself all the time. Shaking your head because you said or did something you wish you hadn’t, because you didn’t show up the way you wanted to, because you let someone down, or blew a chance to have compassion for someone. No one operates from their highest selves in every moment, we all blow it sometimes. When you’re used to driving yourself, it can be really hard to find that forgiving voice when you need it.
Berating yourself for hours or days because you’re fallible is a precious waste of energy. The voice inside your head that says, “You suck! I can’t believe you could be so stupid or careless or lame, or fill-in-the-blank”, is so debilitating. Whatever has happened is done, and dwelling on one moment or one interaction you’d love to have back so you could do it over again serves no one. Figuring out what went wrong so you can make a better choice the next time is productive, but relentlessly thrashing yourself around is not. If you’re consistently kind, patient, loyal, trustworthy, sensitive and thoughtful, most people will find it in their hearts to forgive you when you blow it once in awhile, especially if you acknowledge it and apologize. Most people just want to be understood; they want to know that you realize why this thing that happened was painful or disappointing or upsetting. If a person feels heard and understood, most of the time forgiveness follows, unless you’re dealing with another perfectionist, and there’s the rub. If you can’t be reasonable about expectations for yourself, it’s not going to be easy to cut other people a little slack, either. Sometimes we rake ourselves over the coals to such an unhealthy degree, the result is self-loathing and depression, and if we hold other people to the same standard, we alienate them. No one can live up to that. Can you imagine living with someone who never gave you a break, who never extended understanding or affection when you needed it most?
Many people live with an inner dialogue that is so harsh and unkind, it’s a wonder they get anything done. Your internal dialogue is your constant companion; it can be your best friend, or your worst nightmare. I remember reading a piece in the New York Times many years ago, about not making your children feel their mistakes are sins. If there’s no difference between forgetting to clean your room, for example, and cheating on a test, or lying, or stealing something, how are you to figure out what’s a bummer, and what is really not okay? If you’re punished equally for everything, and if that punishment is painful and scary, the message is that any mistake is a problem. Any moment you failed to be perfect renders you unworthy of love and unsafe. Who wouldn’t want to give up?
The other thing that’s important to get is that the longer you replay old events, the more you rob yourself of what’s happening right now. You take the potential for joy, peace or love right out of the current moment. You’re not here, you’re back there, but there’s no potential back there, and that’s the root of stress and anxiety. We find ourselves in one place, but we want to be in another. We rewrite the conversation, changing the way we responded, or coming up with the perfect retort, but it’s already over, so we’re living in a fantasy, we’re time traveling. Sometimes we do it the other way, too. We “future trip”, and make ourselves anxious over mistakes we’re afraid we could make, ways we could blow it.
If this is all familiar to you, I really suggest you get yourself a six-foot piece of rubber. I’m talking about a yoga mat. I can’t swear that it will work for you, but I can say I was able to accomplish two huge, life-changing shifts through steady practice. The first is that I learned to use my breath and sensations in my body to stay rooted in the now. I’d spent so many years “up in my head”, this was a revelation to me. Being in my body, being aware of my breath, being engaged with and curious about the present moment, without all that chatter drowning out the peace? Amazing. The second is that when I got quiet like that, I realized the relationship I was having with myself was incredibly unkind, and I simply refused to continue to feed that harsh inner critic. When it would arise, I’d come back to my breath and back to compassion for myself. I tend to believe if I could do that, anyone can — it’s why I teach. If you’re tormented by your thoughts all day, there’s simply no way you can spread love as you move through the world. I’ve come to believe that’s really what we’re here to do. In order to spread it, you have to be brimming with it, and the funny thing is, if you get quiet and strip away enough layers of rage, shame, blame, regret and fear, you will find love. If you feed it, it will grow and blossom within you, and then it will blossom around you. You might think you get stuff done because you have an inner voice that’s demanding and dissatisfied all the time, but I promise you when your inner voice is rooting you on, you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.
Sending you love, and wishing you the gift of a kind inner voice,
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