Hey guys! I’m super excited today because it’s finally my CHEAT DAY! I’m currently having my coffee with a chocolate chip biscotti and a black and white cookie. The best part? It’s completely guilt free! After 3 weeks of strict keto, I’m finally eating some freaking carbs. And, as a bonus, it just so happens that today’s topic is related.
I’m going out on a limb here, but I’d venture to say that most of us who are on this self-improvement journey have one time or another beaten themselves up. Maybe you slipped up on your diet, or skipped a few days at the gym, or had a drink (or twelve) at your friend’s birthday party. As much as we would all like to stay perfectly on the path towards optimization, the fact of the matter is, we’re not robots – we screw up.
I’m a big believer in holding yourself to high standards. I define standards as “what you expect and demand out of yourself on a daily basis.” Self-improvement is like building a house, and standards are the ruler with which you measure each day’s progress. As the saying goes: “what gets measured, gets managed.” If you’re not keeping an eye on your standards, you’re risking an end result that you didn’t expect or worse, the whole thing collapsing around you.
Standards are important. However, like anything else, it’s possible to get carried away with them. When we screw up (and we always do), we look to our standards and see that our behavior is not up to par. This causes us to self-blame, self-doubt, and self-criticize. While it’s true that being your own worst critic can be useful at times, it is often counterproductive, and can drag us down instead of pushing us up.
We use up valuable energy chastising ourselves for our mistakes instead of channeling that energy towards repairing the damage. Our negative self-talk plays over and over in our heads like a broken record – driving our stress levels up and self-esteem and confidence down, setting us up to fail once again and feel even worse! We are frantically spinning our own wheels, but getting nowhere.
So now the question becomes:
How can we avoid the pitfalls of setting standards? How do we stop beating ourselves up when we don’t measure up to our ideals?
What we need is a buffer – a structure that is put in place to cull the tide of negative thoughts whenever we mess up. But it’s one thing to “know” the logic behind a mental structure. Integrating it into your being so that you instinctively abstain from beating yourself is an entirely different animal.
So I like to package this concept into a saying or mantra that I use to remind myself. It might sound “woo-woo” or “New Age-y,” but all a mantra is is a frequently repeated statement or slogan. I find that it’s easier to remind myself not to beat myself up when I have a short, punchy saying to repeat whenever I’m making a big deal over a failure. It’s definitely more effective than trying to reason with yourself about stress hormones and self-esteem.
The saying is: Be strict but not hard on yourself.
That’s it! I repeat this to myself whenever I catch myself making a big deal out of a failure. The other day, I ended up at home around 10:30 P.M because I was chatting with a couple training partners after BJJ. I needed to be up by 5, so I wanted to sleep by 10. After cooking, cleaning, and washing up, I got into bed at 12:16. Way late.
I knew I would be tired the next day, and I needed to grind hard since it was finals week, but I also knew that stressing out over lost time is an exercise in futility – it’s like crying over spilled milk. I repeated this mantra to myself a couple times and then slept like a prince.
In the morning, I realized that though I was tired, I’d really enjoyed the conversation with my training partners and had learned a lot from them. I had also been completely isolated in the days prior, working nonstop on my finals. Looking back, the reason I stayed so late was that I was starved for social interaction. Now here I am, no worse for the wear after sleeping late.
Being strict means that you avoid compromising the promises you make to yourself. Being hard on yourself means that you judge yourself harshly and refuse to give yourself credit where credit is due. Be strict about maintaining your daily standards, but don’t be hard on yourself. If and when you fail, don’t blow it up into something that will put you further back from your goals. Take it easy. It okay that you made a mistake. The important thing now is how you proceed from that point onwards.
The number one cause of failure to meet goals is giving up – beating yourself up significantly increases your risk of quitting. Becoming “Batman” is about growing into your cape – becoming the superhero of your own life. During that process, there are going to be times when you get tripped up, and you will make mistakes. When these times inevitably come, please don’t beat yourself up. It’s going to hurt you more than it’ll help. You’ll feel discouraged and doubt the path you are on, but remember that it’s part of the process. The slumps don’t last forever. Don’t quit!
Til’ Next Time,