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  • Writer's pictureAmy Sosne

Competing, comparing, self-care, and self-compassion

Hi All,

Well it's been a long time since I've posted even though I had promised myself that I would try to post at least once every other week, clearly that has not happened. So, with that "failed" goal in mind, this is where I will start. Just now, my statement "failed goal," was one of judgment. I was judging myself because I did not live up to the expectations and goals that I had set for myself. Over the past several weeks, I have been working hard on catching myself when I've been judging or competing with myself. Yes, competing with myself. It sounds weird, I know, but if you all really think long and hard, you know that there are many of you who join me in the self-competition camp. For those of you who know me, you probably know that I'm not an incredibly competitive person when it comes to playing or COMPARING (yes, we will get back to this word!) myself to others. I really don't do this all that much. My biggest enemy and hardest competition is comparing myself to what I feel like I should be doing, how I should be performing, how I did perform yesterday or 10 years ago, how I did "accomplish" and "do" multiple things in the span of 2 hours yesterday and have not "done" enough today, the list goes on. Even from my days back to playing competitive tennis, it was not the not "beating" my opponent (it should have been - lol), but it was the fact that yesterday I hit 100 balls in a row in the court and today I couldn't get past 50 (yes, who cares from a rational perspective!). I could go on and on with the comparisons or the "what if" I had made that decision, what would my life look like today or be like, but this "short" blog would turn into a novel. The game of sliding doors (loved that movie!) can send anyone into a worthless abyss of regrets, rumination, perseveration and overthinking that which is long decided, done, and we have no power anymore to change. So, yes, there are many times where I play through the multiple scenarios had I chosen door number one, or missed door number 2, etc., but the reality is, "I'm in." Right now, I am inside my life, my world, my surroundings. I am here and to dwell on where I could be, should be, was, would have been is useless and just continually reemphasizes that which I do not have power or control over as opposed to reclaiming control and power of that which I do in the present moment.

At this point, I want to pause and ask everyone who is reading this post (thank you if you're still with me!) these questions and truly think about them. I normally don't "assign" tasks in my blogs (many of you are probably closing this tab in your browser right now!), but I do think that this is a worthwhile exercise and something to really hold in mind as you go throughout your day, make small decisions, life changing decisions, and engage in SELF-CARE and COMPASSION (yes, we'll get back to those key terms at some point too - and, just so you know I'm not a master in non-judgment, self-care, and/or self-compassion - I know a lot about them, but knowing, doing, and embracing are very different). So, here are the questions:

  • Do you think about what you did yesterday or last week, a day where you "accomplished" something really hard (it could be finishing a paper, giving a great performance, a great presentation, winning a competitive game or race, taking care of your children and providing "enriching and engaging, fun activities" all day with no fighting, completing a really difficult workout, etc) and think to yourself, I have to "accomplish" something today or this week that is "as good or better" than what I did last week? In other words, do you require or feel that you have to meet those accomplishments or expectations or even "one up" those accomplishments every time in order to feel as good about yourself?

  • Probably one of the easiest and least complicated example that I find myself running into, for those of you who are also peloton users, is that if I get my best output, I might not be happy or feel as good about myself unless I get that record output or better the next time or the next week. You can all see the problem here when using a rational mind or perspective. There is a maximum output that my body is able to do, no matter how hard I push it. This output is also dependent on how I slept the night before or over the course of the past week, what my workout was the previous day, how I feel, etc. To COMPARE myself to myself is not fair when the conditions are not always the same AND I'm not always the same. To expect to keep getting better and better is setting a bar that is never tangible, it's like going on one of those revolving stair machines at the gym. The stairs keep coming and you keep walking up, there is no end. It is not realistic to keep getting better and better, even olympic athletes max out and never repeat their record over and over again. I mean, especially now that I'm in may later 30s, records are probably a thing of the past, right? (Lol)

  • In addition, in order to "do" better, I need to have self-compassion and let my body recover, I need to expect to "do worse" some days. Some days, my body needs a lighter, lower impact ride. Some days, my body needs a slower run but maybe a longer distance or a slower run/walk and a shorter distance. Again, I catch myself in the "judgment" that a lower peloton output or a slower run or, dare I say, walk is a "worse" day. What I really need to do is embrace that these days are not "better" or "worse" days. Every day just is and "is" a good day if I feel good because I'm listening to my body, allowing myself to recover, and engaging in self-compassion physically and mentally. A huge challenge of mine is finding that sense of well-being, accomplishment, and calmness that I tend to get from endorphins from "accomplishing" and "performance" without always having to accomplish and perform. Feeling calmness and fulfillment in just being.

  • We do live in a culture that uses comparing ourselves to our self and others at any given moment as an intrinsic motivator to accomplish and do. We need to challenge and reflect on what motivates us to get up each day, to do things, and to "be?" Are these motivators intricately woven with self-comparisons and comparisons to others?

  • On those rare moments when you find that you may have "free time" (which hopefully will be more and more the case now that things are opening back up), do you find yourself worrying and anxious that you are not doing something that you are supposed to be doing and that you are running out of time? Do you find it difficult to sit, relax, and let yourself do something for you that, yes, by your standards (if outcome is measured in tangible measures), is just "wasting" time?

  • I know this from my personal experience, and I'm experiencing this phenomena right now as I write. It's been 1.5 years roughly since I've had a day from 9-3pm without having to take care of children or having meetings or work-related things to do. Last week when I started writing again, I had the FIRST day! Although it felt wonderful and liberating, I did not feel fully free, because I did not know how to make the most of my day. I was looking at the clock almost as if I could see the minutes "wasting away." Every moment I tried to make productive, to do things that are normally a real pain to do with dependents around,such as run errands, etc. I also had on my "list" self care items like practice mindfulness, practice yoga, knit, paint, color, catch up on really juicy netflix shows, maybe take a long shower without having kids in the background or in the shower with me, the list of what I would like to do really is a novel in and of itself! Looking at the clock, I tried to figure out how to fit a yoga, writing, art, knitting, and tv binging retreat into 6 hours while also fitting in laundry and errands. No realistic, lol. So, what did I let give? Well, despite what I'm sure my therapist would have advised, despite what the rational me would have advised and the me that knows about the importance of self-care, self-compassion, and relaxation in the moment, I did not take the time to knit, watch tv, paint, and engage in mindfulness practices (I did turn on a podcast while I walked the dogs and folded the laundry - lol). I changed all of the sheets in the house, did two loads of laundry, went to pick up cleaning supplies we "desperately" (yeah, we don't) needed, picked up my work computer and tried to navigate and set it up (I'm "off" until August 15th - it's July 9th), labeled more clothes for kids for camp, etc. I had gotten so frustrated that I got on my gerble wheel (treadmill since it was raining) to needlessly work out more in order to vent (yes, breathing and mindfulness exercised would be advised here). Then, I looked at my dogs and felt guilty that I was writing, because it finally had stopped raining and I SHOULD (yes this is a big word as well!) make sure they got a nice walk before I had to start pick ups. Yup, so that's what I did. I stopped writing, didn't knit, watch TV or paint, but took the dogs for a long walk since it had been raining for 2.5 consecutive days (you should know that one of my dogs is 15 and probably could care less AND it still started to rain on the walk!) Okay, so is that enough of a tangent for you? AND, what's worse, as I sat and wrote what I was doing and was not doing, I was clearly JUDGING myself on how I was and am failing at self-care and self-compassion. Yet, if I did not "accomplish" these household chores, I would have judged myself for doing "nothing" for the day.

  • Do you find yourself being more compassionate and "easier" on others and giving self-care advice to others that you do not follow?

  • I'm not going to even give you my answer on this one! I think that many people that go into any areas of mental health, wellness, mindfulness, nutrition, and other wellness related professions such as yoga instruction, etc. go into these professions because they have struggled with anxiety related issues or something that has resulted in them investigating modalities and therapeutics, which we can study and get to know and teach, BUT can still have a tough time doing and embracing ourselves.

  • How many times a day or a week do you ever think to yourself, "if only..." (you can fill out the rest?

  • I fall into the "if onlies" (as I call them) a lot. Now, examining this, these statements make no sense. Yes, "if only," but you didn't and unfortunately or fortunately technology has not allowed us to transplant ourselves like Jack and Annie in the Magic Treehouse back in time! What is the point on perseverating on something that can't be undone, a decision that can't be overturned, a step that can't be backtracked? Well, RATIONALLY, we all would agree that this is a "waste" of time, but yet we all fall into this trap at times. And, just so you know, this trap is and can be a form of self-torture or the antithesis of self-care and self-compassion. Be here, be present, and don't fall into the if onlies, or if I had just made this decision - Snap out of it - you didn't!

  • Lastly (there are many more important questions, but I'm already beyond my "short" post!), where do you rank yourself, things you do, tasks, others, etc. Below is a list, rank these in order from highest priority to lowest priority (be honest with yourself).

  • Taking care of myself (this entails making sure that I sleep enough hours, that I eat nutritious meals and keep hydrated, that I exercise a healthy amount of time each week (not too little or too much).

  • Taking care of my dependents (pets or children - no, I realize that they are not one in the same, though this could be arguable - lol. I make sure that the needs of my dependents are "superbly" met meaning that they are fed meals that are balanced and what they desire (yes, not always the same!), they are enriched with "enriching" and engaging activities and experiences, they are appropriately groomed and exercised, they are unconditionally loved at all times. (People who rank this first generally have a tough time "putting the kids in front of the TV" or defrosting frozen pizza or mac n' cheese for the second straight night - there is too much guilt and discomfort associated with this).

  • Worrying about what others (those in the surrounding community) think of me and behaving in ways to go out of the way (even if it inconveniences oneself) to help others without many boundaries. (Can you say no to requests from local organizations, friends, family, extended family, those you work with? If you rank this high, than you may sacrifice your midday workout, which keeps you "sane," or yoga class in order to go help another person again and again in a non-urgent situation).

  • "Accomplishing" and being "good" at work. Does your work and your expectations and standards that you hold yourself up to at work impinge on your own self- care or your relationship with loved ones? Do you have trouble saying no to work duties that are outside of working hours and that you are not compensated for?

Okay, well, I hope that you enjoyed that exercise and I really hope that you look at your answers, reflect on them, and also set goals and rational expectations for yourself and look at areas that you may want to improve prioritization in and areas that you may want to rank as a lesser priority. In general, a balance of all of these areas is probably ideal for most of us, so if one area is really outweighing any other areas, it may be time to shift the balance a little. (Again, easier said than done!)

There is much more to say, but I want to "tidy up" this post for now and let everyone breath and reflect. I know from personal experience in my own life and in my life now that I compete with myself and need to do and accomplish because I have long (and wrongly) ingrained in myself the measurement of my own self-value and self-esteem and feeling good about myself in what I have "done." However, being a type A person and in many ways having an addictive personality, I need to do more and more in order to feel just as good. Put into terms that we might understand more, a drug addict or alcoholic builds up a tolerance to the drugs or alcohol and requires more and more to get the same "high." I, like I'm sure many others, have built up a tolerance for a to-do list that really is crazy from a rational perspective (just as some amounts that individuals can tolerate of drugs and alcohol can become), and to get the same high (yes, I realize this is a healthier high, but it can also be self-destructive taken to an extreme), I need to add more and more to my to-do list or more and more to the things I can accomplish. It's all a self-comparison. Being in this perpetual pattern of self-comparison, doing, feeling good, and repeat; self-comparison, doing more, feeling good, and repeat is not sustainable. This is not a sustainable or tangible pattern and impinges on self-care and is far from self-compassion. In this self-destructive cycle, you will never be enough.

Well, I've now identified my issues and rationally "see" them. Now, how to change and break this pattern? That's for a whole other day, but it definitely entails looking at key questions such as:

- How did what I did and accomplish become linked to feeling good?

- Would I feel good or could I feel good about myself without doing x, y, and z or is the discomfort of just being too great?

- Was there ever a time in my life that I did feel good without "doing?" If so, what happened?

- How do I work my way out of this self-destructive pattern?

- What happens if I don't?

- When do I feel most calm? (This is a visualization exercise. Imagine yourself in your most calm state; where are you? what happened? what is happening? what are the circumstances? who are you with? Are you alone? What are the smells, sights, sounds, if any? Capture this moment and practice coming back to it again and again).

The pictures that I've shared on this post are of my kids "engaging" in competition. They are 7, 5 and 2. Right now, they have fun. They enjoy what they're doing. They do get angry with themselves if they can't climb to the top or they don't get a "hit" at bat, but they are redirectable and find their way out of this judgment to come back to just enjoy being in the moment. Let's keep this liberated child mind forever!

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