Do you ever feel like you are constantly losing or failing in that one area of your life you are trying so hard to be successful in? Do you ever know the “right” thing to do in a situation mentally but don’t actually act on that knowledge? It can be hard – especially for those of us who are in therapy or other forms of counseling and are doing the work to improve our mental health. Having head knowledge of how to change but not implementing it can make you feel terrible. It’s like, am I even trying to change? If I were, wouldn’t this be easier? If only our will alone could lead to long-lasting change.
Sometimes it feels like I have been asked to solve a puzzle, but also given the box top with the final picture. You know where the pieces need to go, but sometimes you still accidentally choose the wrong one that looked very similar to the right one. The puzzle solving isn’t over at that point though, you just replace it with the right piece and move on. Why then, when we experience “failure” or a “set back” in our lives do we sometimes feel it is final? Like putting a puzzle together, if we have the incorrect response to a situation, we notice it, and next time make the right choice in that situation, and move on. One mishap or slip into old behaviors we are trying to overcome does not remove all previous progress to that point. So why can that one choice easily overshadow all the other progress we have made in that moment?
For me, it is perfectionism that steals the joy of good moments because they were not perfect moments. If I did not perfectly follow my meal plan during my ED recovery, I was failing. It didn’t matter if I was trying, it only mattered if I checked the box I felt I was supposed to check. Even though, again and again, those on my recovery team reminded me that the journey and transformation was going to happen over time through changes in my thoughts not just changes in my behavior and checked boxes.
I put quotes around “failure” and “set back” because who is to say how we responded to a situation or dealt with our anxiety was wrong? Who is the person keeping score in your life? Who is dictating whether you are succeeding or failing? Even when I had people telling me in my life I was succeeding I didn’t believe it. I saw the mishaps and the mistakes in the day and let that wipe away every good and positive choice I made. I let the need to have a perfect, stain free day ruin my chances at celebrating my small wins along the way. It can be sad to have others cheering around you but still feel so miserable and awful about yourself on the inside.
I have not yet achieved this, but one of my goals is to learn to recognize and celebrate small wins rather than focusing on the even smaller, or perhaps bigger, “mistakes.” I believe this is an important part of changing my view of life away from the negative lens that anxiety paints life in and seeing the good in life instead, no matter how small it is. It can be so hard to drag ourselves out of the pit of self-loathing when struggling with anxiety or depression, especially when we act in ways we wish we didn’t. In those moments, where you feel so lost in that pit, maybe this can turn into a small exercise you use to start to crawl out of it and focus on the little bit of good there is.
Over time I believe this will lead us to seeing more and more of the good as we celebrate it day by day. There is a lot of suffering and pain in this life, sometimes it’s just a sunny day that we can name as a good thing, but as we practice we get better at noticing. And when we notice, we realize that ultimately we are the only ones really judging how “good” or “bad” we did any given day. We are our own worst critics, but if we can start noticing the small wins, maybe we will learn to become cheerleaders of ourselves rather than critics.
Do you have an inner critic? What about an inner cheerleader? Do you think you’re hard on yourself, and if so, what have, or would you try to do to combat that?