What if this is just a game? would we still feel as attached to the arbitrary outcome and keep hacking away at ourselves in order to win What if we chose this avatar in another life we've forgotten was this path placed before us with loving, mindful intention a joyous challenge, a precious lesson Will we feel silly to wake up and realize we felt such urgency a desperate need to get it right in a form we can return to as much as we'd like
Rise to the Challenge
I have met tons of people that identify themselves as competitive. I’ve been told that is a natural part of human nature, and I suppose all living things must have a certain competitive drive in order to survive. I, myself, however, have never considered myself competitive. I’ve never been very interested in sports or even playing cards or board games. There is nothing inside of me that drives me to win. Winning a game or a sport means little to nothing to me. Yet losing still makes me feel badly about myself. Therefore there is really no benefit to me participating in competitive activities.
I’ve wondered about this aspect of myself since I became aware of it. I do think a lot of it stems from social anxiety, but there is another aspect I think might be relevant. Growing up as the youngest sibling, you learn pretty fast that the chances of you winning anything or outperforming your older sibling are slim to none. I got used to always losing every single game we would play growing up. One particular incident stands out where I was playing “Mouse Trap” with my sister and grandmother. When I lost I was so distraught and unwilling to surrender my cheese game piece that I cried and shut myself up in my room. From all of these experiences, I think I have internalized the idea that challenge and competition inevitably means failure and disappointment. This has become so ingrained in me that I feel no more likely to win games of chance than I do ones that involve skill.
To this day, I still don’t enjoy playing games at parties (drinking games are a bit more acceptable) and even the video games I play are much more about casual, steady progress and creativity than winning and losing or being challenged. Until recently this was all the further I really thought about this mindset of mine. So I don’t like games very much, that’s no big deal. I dug no deeper into the matter.
The other day, however, I realized just how much this aversion to challenge has skewed my entire worldview. After all, competition and challenge is something that we all encounter each and every day in our careers, in our relationships, and even within ourselves. How you choose to perceive and respond to these challenges has a huge impact on your self-perception and your overall quality of life. Only very recently did it occur to me that not only do I anticipate failure in games, but in the challenges I face in life as well. I’ve come to view any type of challenging situation as inherently negative, foreshadowing only failure and embarrassment, never as an opportunity for self discovery or personal growth.
I think one of the ways I can start to change this mindset, is by allowing myself space to fail. There was a wonderful example of this practice in the yoga class I did yesterday. Vrikshasana or tree pose, as well as all the other balancing poses in yoga, are a great place to start playing with this. Once a balancing posture becomes second nature and relatively easy to hold, it’s time to start pushing the limits of our balancing ability. Often a cue is given to try closing your eyes. If you’ve never tried this, it is exceptionally difficult to maintain your balance with the eyes closed. Normally, I ignore this option. I inevitably fall out of the pose and get upset with myself.
Yesterday the cue was given in a slightly different way though. Because of this, I was able to let go of the expectation or even the goal of maintaining my balance perfectly and staying in the pose for any length of time with my eyes shut. It wasn’t about how long I could manage to stay still, but simply what it would feel like to try. Once I released the pressure of perfecting the pose, I actually was able to do better at this challenge than I ever have been in the past. Not only that, but I didn’t feel any irritation or disappointment when I did fall out of the pose.
Whether you enjoy challenges or not, the fact is that you are going to be faced with them regularly. It’s not an option to avoid all challenge for the rest of you life. Rather than trying to avoid challenges, perhaps we can try to look at them in a different, healthier way. Sometimes it even helps me to imagine what it would feel like to be someone that is competitive or excited by the idea of being challenged. Despite my initial reaction, I do admit that there is a certain pleasure and even peace in being challenged. When I’m doing something new or difficult, I am usually more focused than usual. And the only thing I really have to fear is my own self criticism.
In order to let go of the outcome and my expectations for myself, I find it helpful to start off by viewing failure as a likely and acceptable option. It’s almost more pleasurable if I assume I am going to fail from the beginning. Success or failure was never the point most of the time anyway. The point of life isn’t to do everything perfectly all of the time or even most of the time. Life is about trying new things, being curious, and growing through adversity. Failure is a natural part of these things and what’s most likely holding us back from them. Once we realize that we have the choice to live happily with our mistakes and failures we can finally be free to explore and blossom as we were meant to.
Reframing Our Goals
I have a lot of big plans to start working on tomorrow. I’m really trying to get myself excited about these changes rather than feel overwhelmed by them. There is a thin line between eagerness and anxiety. It’s important for me to stay focused on the process rather than the end result. The process is where I’m going to be living, after all. I have to keep reminding myself that there really is no pressure. I’m only doing this for myself. I’m free to adjust and readjust as many times as I need to find the framework that best serves me moving forward. The most important part of all of this is making sure I practice loving kindness toward myself along the way.
1. Give Yourself Credit:
One of the ways I’m doing this is by taking the time to reflect on all the progress I’ve already made. I finally stopped smoking cigarettes again a few weeks ago. My inner voice wants to minimize this accomplishment by telling me things like: You shouldn’t have been smoking in the first place. You don’t deserve a pat on the back just because you stopped actively poisoning yourself. But that isn’t fair, and I know it. I deserve to feel proud of myself. It was a really difficult step for me to take. I honestly wasn’t sure if I’d be able to do it. Now not only have I switched back to vaping, but I have absolutely no desire to smoke cigarettes.
In addition to that, I’ve also managed to pull myself out of a serious eating disorder after only a year. I know that might not sound like much of an accomplishment, but just listening to other people discuss struggling with similar issues for over a decade made me really appreciate myself more. I loved myself enough even in that toxic headspace to make steps in the right direction even if it meant gaining all the weight I lost back again. This time my inner voice says: You still have an eating disorder. You’re just eating abnormally instead of not eating, binging, or purging. Now you’re still fucked up and you’re fat. But once again, that’s not a fair assessment. My eating habits may still be far from perfect, but they are definitely better. This isn’t the end of my journey. I’m even ready to start taking the next step forward.
I often find myself falling into the trap of never-ending self-improvement. I am always looking for the next thing I can do to be a better version of myself. The problem is I never take a moment to appreciate the accomplishments and victories I have along the way. I am a strong, resilient person. I’ve done so much more than I ever thought I could. What’s the point of even having these goals if I never take a step back to enjoy my progress and assess how far I’ve come?
2. Get Excited
Part of the struggle of working towards new goals is just that, viewing it as a struggle. This is where the reframing comes in. Somehow even when we are the ones setting the goals, it can feel like something we have to do rather than something we simply want to do. Keep reminding yourself of all the reasons that you want to be working toward your goals. For me, my intention is to start living in a way that is more loving and compassionate toward myself. I want to live in alignment with my ideals and treat my body and mind with the care and respect that they deserve.
Even more than the words themselves, try to get in touch with the feelings behind those words. Logic alone may be enough to help us act, but it’s the emotion that first inspired us to change that is going to keep us energized and excited about the journey. I like to visualize how good I am going to feel once I’m living in a way that is more true to my values. I’m curious to find out how my body will feel, how my mind might change. This is an adventure that I cannot wait to embark on.
3. No Pressure
Often when I set new goals, I get caught up in putting far too much pressure on myself to achieve them. Instead of visualizing how good I’m going to feel or remembering why I started in the first place, I imagine how shitty I’ll feel if I fail. This is where it’s important for me to remember that no one is there to hold me accountable except myself. There is no reason to fear failure unless I give myself a reason to. It doesn’t matter how long it takes or if I ever even get to where I’m trying to be. Would it even be worth it if I got there by being cruel and hard on myself? There is absolutely nothing wrong with getting off track or making mistakes along the way. That’s all part of learning what works best for me. I’ve just got to stay curious. Why didn’t that work? Why might that have worked better? Is there a way I can make this easier or more fun for myself? No matter the end result, I’m guaranteed to learn a lot about myself along the way. And that is its own form of success.
Setting goals for ourselves shouldn’t be this scary, daunting task. It’s fun to try new things. It’s fun to have something to work towards. It’s fun to learn about ourselves, what motivates us, what sets us off track, what makes us happy. Let your goals be a game. The best part is, as long as you’re trying, you can’t lose.