On Being Tough on Yourself — The Fine Line

Hi. I am very, very hard on myself. I tend to kick myself for the small things I do that are either (1) an accident, or (2) such small issues that it doesn’t really matter. It’s an easy reflex, a quick reaction to a lot of things. I’ve had to learn to be gracious to myself, to look at the big picture, and to just calm the HELL down. I could sit here and talk in circles about “why I am the way I am”, but I won’t, because truthfully, I don’t know (the “nature vs. nature” stuff). Today I want to talk about swinging so hard the other direction — and not being tough enough on yourself when the situation demands it.

In life, you have two decisions, most of the time. In the sense that you can choose to be content with a situation (whether you’re happy or sad, overall, the idea is that it’s good enough), or you can choose to try and improve things. Without even realizing it, I took out the emotional aspects! That’s kinda fun. But the reason that you have “two choices” is that you can take the easy way out and just say “well, that was good enough, you can try again tomorrow” — or you can say “no, I want this goal — I need to do this. I’m going to do this” and push through. Sure, some things require you to be a lot more gracious towards yourself, like making an honest mistake, but pushing yourself to do hard things matters just as well.

So, hear me out. I think this is the distinction in terms of different ways you can be hard on yourself — after you get through difficult situation, or after you completely fail at something — go a little bit easier on yourself. Be gracious to yourself! (To a degree, of course, we’ll get there in a second…). But before or during a situation (ex. when you’re on a run, do you stop and walk, or do you push through to get better?), you go tough on yourself. You push through it, you do the hard thing (I hate this phrase, so the sheer fact that I’m using it means it’s important!), you work to become better.

See, personally I think that we should all talk to ourselves, and I do so quite often. Here are some things that run through my head.

You could do better……versus……you sucked at that.
Why did you do it that way……versus……why did you do that??
That wasn’t really your best effort……versus……that was terrible.

Words matter, especially the way you talk to yourself, but your mindset dictates your words. So if your mindset is negative and you decide to be hard on yourself in a situation where it’s not going to help, the easy thing to do is to yell at yourself, look down on yourself, and tell yourself that you suck. But if your mindset is positive, even through difficult situations, you will recognize that you failed in some items yet still succeeded in at least one thing, hopefully, and use that to fuel your future…endeavors. Barf. But true.

You can still demand excellence and have high expectations for yourself because those are simply standards you work towards. However, being tough on yourself usually happens after a situation occurs. And I talk about this a lot — you need to stop immediately jumping there and making yourself feel bad about mistakes that have already happened, that absolutely can’t change. Look ahead! Much easier said than done, naturally, but a very important skill to learn.

So now that those distinctions are out of the way, I do want to talk about being tougher on yourself and demanding excellence — and almost requiring it. To me, demanding excellence is not asking for perfection, it’s asking that you give an excellent effort. It’s asking that you give 100% of your God-given abilities, even when you think you can’t, and especially when you know you can — but still choose not to.

This may not be a popular concept — but as someone who has anxiety (and definitely needs to find a therapist right now) and a very Type-A/controlling personality — it can be easy for me to make excuses for things (because in my mind, it’s either a yes or no, not a maybe). Sometimes it’s “well I don’t feel right today so I’m just going to do nothing” — when maybe I need to do some more work to see why I’m feeling off. Maybe, and most of the time, I need to hydrate, get some sunshine, and start doing something, even if it’s the tiniest thing. For example, I can generally recognize when I’m catastrophizing…and I generally know how to help myself out of that. But there are times when I ignore it because I would (1) rather suffer, which is very stupid, I might add, or (2) willful, spiteful ignorance. And (3) there are times when I’m really, really stuck and need help.

With that being said, I’m in no way saying that you need to push yourself to your breaking point and continue to have aggressively high-functioning anxiety that is burning you out — like I said, there are times I can get really, really stuck. BUT — there is definitely a line. At some point, you need to start being realistic about things, especially if you have a goal in mind. Ex. if you want to lose weight (me), you can’t keep “letting yourself” do the things that won’t let you lose weight (me, though I will not go into specifics because that’s another can of worms).

You need to be okay with realizing when you’re making excuses and letting yourself get away with laziness. However, you need to be okay with realizing when enough is enough and know your boundaries.

You need to be okay with being tough on yourself when you know you can do better, but you choose not to. However, you need to be okay with knowing that you can’t always be perfect, and you can’t always give 100% effort, 100% of the time. Those numbers can go up and down, and the cool thing is, no one expects you to be 100% in both of those things 24/7, because that would be 200% (I may be mad at math, but this was a joke so please don’t worry, I’m not that bad), and also, sleep.

You need to be okay with telling yourself to do better. However, you also need to be okay with being kind to yourself! A weird thing to say, but it’s true — it’s very easy to be mean to yourself for some reason, while at the same time, be extremely kind to a friend. Why?? You deserve to be kind to yourself as well!

So as you can see, there is a very, very fine line, but in another way, it’s a spectrum. Sometimes you’re fantastic…sometimes you don’t do very well…sometimes things are just okay. And all of that is okay.

Unfortunately for those with very black-and-white views of the world (me), the grey area is tough to embrace. Usually when I’m faced with a situation where I have choices (am I going to complete my work tonight or leave it for the morning? Am I going to keep running or start walking?) — it’s either absolutely yes, or absolutely no. First of all, who says there are only two options? What if, when I hit what I might consider an endpoint in my schoolwork, I did just a little bit more to make things easier tomorrow? What if, when I hit a fork in the road, or I think I can’t keep going, I just ran a little bit more, even if it’s not to the end of the trail? I’ve been pushing myself to approach life this way more, and it’s helped me be a little bit more curious, creative, and honestly — tough!

I’ve gotten a lot of great information out of the book Extreme Ownership. I love that the authors humbly explained that they know it’s not a catch-all solution, that it’s simply another way to look at the world (I’m very poorly paraphrasing, sorry, but I don’t have the book right now so bear with me) and approach problems. So personally, I choose to listen to and respect their experiences, but also make sure to see how I can apply it to specific items in my life. This is where the “fine line” idea came from — start holding yourself to a higher standard and be tough on yourself. But the right way, with a lot of kindness, less excuses, more reality, less emotion, more willingness to suffer and “embrace the suck” because that’s the only way to improve.

Also — I realized I try to write more things in 1st person plural because I am lumping myself in with the “solutions”, thus implying that I have plenty of problems, which I believe I am quite honest about. I don’t want to make it sound like I’m being an uppity jerk telling people what to do, just because I think it’s the right thing to do, which is not a valid reason. I’m often fearful of sounding pretentious, so I oddly felt I had to defend myself instead of just hoping that people would understand. Hmm. I’m going to keep this paragraph in to remind myself that I need to stop feeling a need to explain everything so that people fully understand my intentions, because I have to leave room for human nature (I overuse this term, oops).

Athletic trainer, coffee lover, looking for a hobby I don’t have time for. I write about fitness, mental health, being Asian-American, and personal growth.

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