Winning at Life

29 May

For various reasons, I recently hopped back on the therapy roller coaster for a few sessions. While I had doubts going in about the potential of such a short course, my therapist managed to hit the roots of some of my thornier issues by the second session.

The heart of many of my problems? I am driven to Win at Life. I have to be Superwoman: most awesome at everything, ever. The rational side of my brain knows this is impossible and tries to curb those feelings. But it only succeeds in making me feel like I must be Very Good at Everything instead of The Best.

I know I’m not the only one with a belief-system like this, with a mental scorecard that is full of big fat FAIL. The prevalence of the “ALL THE THINGS!” meme is a testament to it.

Winning at Life mentality manifests in a number of ways. Thankfully my therapist had some suggestions on how to start circumventing it. I’m sharing them with all of you in the hopes that it will help a least a few of you.

1. “There are not enough hours in the day!”

I prioritize my tasks at work and at home but go to bed feeling like I achieved nothing all day. I mentally tally up all the work that remains and carry it around with me wherever I go. Having this pile of pending tasks is incredibly distracting. I’m rarely “in the present” when I’m working on a task. I am constantly aiming for the finish line, so that I can move on to the next thing.

Suggestion: Make a list of everything that you do, as you do it. Get a separate small notebook just for this task. How you split things up into separate entries is up to you.

This was so simple that I mentally rolled my eyes at it. The next day though, a Saturday, I tried it. I broke something into a separate item if it was something I had to:

a) get up and do, thus interrupting what I was currently doing

b) it was a complete chunk that could technically be delegated as a complete task.

So sorting laundry was one task. Putting a load of clothes into the washing machine was another. Loading the dishwasher was a single task. Feeding the dogs. Taking a shower.

Results: Thirty-eight things, folks. Thirty-eight. On a Saturday. A typical Saturday! Not even a frantic “gotta get shit done” type of day. I did ten things before 10 AM. It was a major eye-opener.

I did the same thing at work on Monday. I start work at 7 AM. In two hours, I had completed fourteen different tasks. And yet, the one big thing I wanted to do? I hadn’t even started yet! But now I could see why the Big Things weren’t getting done: I was mired in small stuff that didn’t even “count” on my mental scorecard.

The most interesting thing however was how I processed this knowledge, this realization that I was actually Doing a Lot of Stuff. It made me want to do more stuff. By giving myself credit for every little thing, I felt validated. Prior to this there was no acknowledgement for 80% of these tasks. I’d do six loads of laundry on the weekend. On Sunday night the last load would still be sitting, clean and dry, in the laundry basket. Not put away. So I’d beat myself up for “not finishing all the laundry.” Jesus H. Christ on a pogo stick. I just took 90% of the credit and hard work and threw it out the window.

No wonder I felt stressed and unmotivated all the time!

2. The things I do aren’t “Enough”, so I don’t deserve a break

No matter how many things I got done in a day, it was never Enough. Even on the day of 38 Things I was still looking around my house and seeing more Things that needed to be done.

Here’s an example. In April my parents came to visit. Shortly after that, I found myself feeling ill. It started Thursday night and by Friday afternoon I told my husband, “I’m getting sick for real.” Saturday morning my throat was on fire. I could barely eat. I sounded like a cartoon character.

I drove myself to the grocery store and bought my own cold medicine.

Dear self: WTF were you thinking?!

That weekend I still got all the laundry done, did the grocery shopping, and took the dogs to the park. I should have been in bed that weekend. (I had strep throat plus a viral infection and possibly allergies on top of it). I wound up being out of work for 3 days. I have to wonder if I would have recovered faster if I had allowed myself to take a break?

Suggestion: Tell yourself that you are doing Enough. Every day. Multiple times a day. Especially at the end of the day. Look at your list of things. Then tell yourself “X amount of Things was enough.”

The other step is to take a day “off”. Obviously there are still a few Things to be done, but your list should be about half of a typical one. During that day, counter all your negative thoughts about being lazy. Tomorrow is another day. You are still doing Enough even on your day off! You are taking care of yourself instead of everything and everyone else. Then at the end of the day, tell yourself you did Enough.

Results: I haven’t fully tried this one yet. It is going to be very challenging for me. Some folks have no trouble taking a deserved day off. My husband is one of these people. I get myself so wound-up about my To-Do list though that I think getting some of them done will make me feel better. It helps a little, but not enough.

The strange thing is that I understand this about other people but I hold myself to an impossible standard. I don’t judge other people for only doing 5 or 10 things in a day. I look at them and see all the challenges they face and think, “they are doing as much as they can.” I don’t give myself that break. I don’t let myself be human, fallible.

This could easily turn into a monster post, so we’ll wrap up there.
Do you know someone in your life that feels this way? Encourage them. Support them. Stop them and tell them: “You are amazing. You deserve a day off tomorrow.”

Are you yourself prone to this? Do you try to make yourself into Superman or Superwoman? How do you counter it?

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5 Responses to “Winning at Life”

  1. Tami May 29, 2011 at 8:10 am #

    YES. Shared this in my reader. The biggest yes for me was number two.

    Reading “Tell yourself that you are doing Enough. Every day” made my insides go squishy and uncomfortable.

    THE IDEA OF TELLING MYSELF THAT I AM DOING ENOUGH made me uncomfortable.

    I am not happy about this realization.

    • Fallah May 29, 2011 at 2:44 pm #

      I had the same reaction. I was like “but…but…there’s so much stuff-”

      “No. Doesn’t matter. It’s enough.”

  2. Verdus May 29, 2011 at 1:03 pm #

    I keep getting hung up on the idea that if something I do isn’t perfect the first time, I’ve failed. I’m sure you can guess how well this bolsters my health sense of self-worth.

    • Fallah May 29, 2011 at 2:50 pm #

      I think this definitely is involved in my case as well. My folks, especially my dad, were fond of saying “If it’s not done right it isn’t worth doing at all.”

      Which is counter to something I heard in grad school: “Finished is better than perfect.”

      This stuff is so pervasive. My childhood memories are overwhelmingly positive, my parents love me, and yet my sisters and I all have this insane perfection drive. They arguably have it worse than I do.

      There is hope though. It’s hard to break mental habits and patterns like these but it can be done.

  3. Zachary July 18, 2011 at 11:21 am #

    I’m right there with you on all of the above.

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