When you beat yourself up, you hold the hammer

Thursday’s Thoughts continue to be affected by Tuesday’s truth. No matter how correct my idea could be, the tone with which it’s delivered bothers me. The notion that we are all self-appointed experts exhausts me. Disclaimer: I don’t know Anything. I may write with authority but that’s only because I’ve decided it’s true for me at *this* moment in my life. I repeat: All of my “wisdom” is likely folly and subject to change on a wish on the wind. You have been warned.

Recently a friend, one of the non-imaginary variety, texted me how bad she was feeling about some choices she made. These were small dietary, lifestyle choices that have resulted in her not living up to her own standard. (I type that for clarification because some choices have bigger consequences than others.) There’s about a book’s worth of thoughts rolled right into that one idea. Today I’m just going to focus on 1 tiny part and hope it helps someone out there have a better day.

Negative Self Talk This internal lecture begins as some kind of punishment. You think, “if I just kick my own butt over this, I’ll learn my lesson! I’ll do better from now on. But first, I really need to hammer this home. I must fully, thoroughly understand how terrible those choices were to insure that I never repeat them. I will be sure to tell myself all of my faults and failings. I will not hide any of my negative attributes from myself. In fact, let me dig through this vault I’ve kept close by just for such an occasion. Ooh here are some of my favorites! I shall emotionally magnify them as necessary so that, as God is my witness, I will never eat an entire box of crackers (or whatever) and watch Netflix (for days–or whatever) again.” Yeah! You criminal! How dare you?! (oops–not helping)

Often this happens shortly after you’ve begun to make positive changes but the results aren’t happening as quickly as you’d prefer. (We all like to think that 5 years of consistently poor choices can be remedied in a week.) Chances are you’ve had this little speech with yourself in the past and yet here you are again with the damning monologue. Some weird part of your brain says, “I need to get tougher on myself because I messed up Again!” The definition of insanity, anyone?! Tougher isn’t going to fix it.

Remember I’m saying this with love — how’s that method working out for you? How are you feeling? Has this episode ruined your whole day yet? Should you go ahead and flog yourself tomorrow too just for good measure? We’ve already admitted that you are punishing yourself. When you put that negative self-talk track on repeat, you are actually bullying yourself. Ouch, right?! If this speech was for your child, how long should the lecture last over such an infraction? How deep would you go into all of their shortcomings and previous failures? Does this punishment fit the crime? It’s possible that you might even be emotionally abusing yourself. The punishment mentality doesn’t always motivate or inspire us. At it’s worst, it makes us feel that we aren’t good enough to even try.

video game, household weapons

Which will you use?

Let’s remember the empowering thing: When you start beating yourself up, you must realize that you’re the one holding the hammer. You’ve got control of the hammer, the belt, the whip, the hot coal poker, etc. You get to choose if you use it, for how long, and when you stop. If you’re using one today, I would bet that it’s been long enough. You look pretty sufficiently beat to me. I think you really kicked your own ass quite handily. I’m impressed. You’ve trained hard. You’re probably ready for the cage match. Congratulations on the TKO of….yourself. Who wins when it’s you against you? (Now I’m hearing the old Mortal Kombat game saying “finish him!” Fatality!) Now that you’ve won the championship belt, I wonder what else you might do with that energy?

Our lives are made up of an unknown number of minutes. Each one of us gets to experience an individualized collection of heartbeats. Every minute has the potential to be an experience of Joy. They won’t all be lotto-winning levels of excitement, but the opportunity to feel satisfied is within each one. Sometimes, under difficult circumstances, that opportunity feels hidden but it’s there. How many of those moments are you willing to trade to feel horrible over some old choices? You’re already on the path to improvement. Just take another step in what you think might be the right direction. If it turns out not to be, correct your course by stepping a little to the side and re-evaluate. Correction is not punishment; It’s just an adjustment. Simply try something a slightly new way to see if it works better for you.

My foot was off by an angle of 15 degrees on that last step. Should I sit down and sob over it for 2 days? 2 months? By then I will believe that my entire leg is worthless because my foot wasn’t properly lined up. That’s the *Perfect* way to eliminate any forward momentum! (Oh wait that’s not what we were going for, was it?! Argh. I was finally close to achieving something perfectly!) 

It’s not healthy to completely avoid guilt. We need to feel some mild discomfort to help us realize we’re off course. It doesn’t always feel good to take stock of where we are because we tend to face some disappointment. But it’s necessary if we want to plot a path toward something else. Some of us house a negativity monster in our heads. It’s a hungry, selfish beast that feeds on our energy. It’s the one holding the hammer and pounding away at us. We feed it by giving it too much of our time and attention. It has the power to destroy our relationships with ourselves and others. It steals joy. My advice is to strictly control how much energy that beast consumes. Make a note of your feeling, come up with a behavioral adjustment or shift in perspective and shut that monster down before it gains too much strength. Put your hammer down and move toward a better outcome. You don’t have to choose a new start date to begin to be better. You can begin with your very next choice.

-said with love

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