I wanted to start this second Mental Adventurist blog by saying that I am truly touched by all the warm responses to the site. I hope to have some friends doing some guest blogs and everyone having their input…talking about mental health has helped me so much over the years and I hope The Mental Adventurist can be a catalyst to help us all talk about mental health with courage and compassion.
Now this week, I thought I’d lighten the tone a bit. My thinking is that a hard-hitting blog post every week isn’t what’s needed. So here goes….
I think we can all relate to that internal dialogue that tells us we’re not up to it, that we aren’t worth it or that we’re letting people down.
It seems so easy and natural to beat ourselves up when we make (what our brain tells us is) a mistake:
“Why didn’t I remember that birthday?”.
“I can’t believe I didn’t go for a run like I planned.”
“I’m not funny enough to go out with those people.”
If it is this easy to abuse ourselves when we’re struggling, why don’t we reward ourselves with more positive internal commentary when we do something great?
Meg works as a teacher of children and young people with autism and I love hearing the incredible stories of the way her kids face up to the world. One story has really stuck with us over the years and fits so beautifully with what I’m trying to say here.
A major marker of autism for many is “rigid or repetitive behaviour” – in other words any change can be very difficult to handle. Meg was very close to Patrick* and was often his main source of support at school. When Meg had to take a few days off to go to a conference, Patrick was petrified about the prospect of not having Meg at school. Meg and Patrick had been working on techniques to manage change and on her return Meg was inspired by what Patrick had to say…
“Miss. Lloyd, I think I’m getting better at coping with change. Yesterday you weren’t here, and I was OK. Huh! Good for me!”
He actually said, “Good for me” at the end. With a kind of nonchalant, matter-of-fact, unassuming tone like it was the most natural thing in the world to congratulate himself on this achievement. It is such a bizarre phrase to hear – “Good for me.”, but why? If a similar level of success had been achieved by a friend we’d have no qualms in saying “Good for you.” It doesn’t sound the remotest bit strange.
It’s only because it is praise directed inwards that we struggle with the concept and quite frankly that is just ridiculous.
I’m writing this blog post to say that we should all have a little more “good for me” in our lives.
Last weekend, as I’ve bored a lot of you with already, I completed the IronMan 70.3 (Check out the race report here). It was a goal I have worked towards for a long time and it has taken lots of early starts and it was a real labour of love. I was (am) ecstatic but not long after completing it I could hear that little voice in my head start chirping away already. “Well, what next?”, “That was alright but you could probably have done it quicker,” “Time to move on to the next challenge.”
I have to work hard to turn the volume on that voice down, to sit back and just give myself a pat on the back and soak up the success. I think that this is so important for mental health. I need to say “good for me” and this shouldn’t be a self-indulgence.
As an example of how hard this is to do, on the first edit of this blog I didn’t include ANY self-congratulation or smugness about my IronMan 70.3. Even though this is what the blog is supposed to be about! The inner voice tells us to be humble and modest so much that even when I sat down purposefully to boast, I couldn’t! (Meg even added this last paragraph).
So here goes.
I nailed it. I did the IronMan 70.3 in a time that was 5 minutes faster than my goal, even though it was unexpectedly really fricking hot on the day. I trained my butt off in the weeks / months leading up to it, and my alarm being set at well before 6am became normal. I was dedicated and disciplined and excited and motivated.
Good for me.
I once listened to an interview with Chris Hoy (famous British Olympic cyclist) and he said that a lot of his motivation and the longevity in his career came down to the fact that in spite of working (ridiculously) hard for many months/years he would still take the time after a success to revel in that victory for a while.
There’s no doubt that this can be a struggle for people, our minds are programmed to work in this way. Paul Gilbert writes in Overcoming Depression that when we self-criticise we fire up the parts of our brain linked to threat but that self-compassion stimulates the area of the brain linked to empathy and soothing . Clearly is it far more complicated than this and if you struggle with this idea there is a fantastic website www.selfcompassion.org where hopefully you will find what you need to be a little kinder to yourself. You can also check out the "Sounds True" video here:
One of my favourite poems growing up was “If” by Rudyard Kipling and one of the lines that sticks with me is….
“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors both the same…
Yours is the Earth and everything in it,
And – which is more - you’ll be a Man my son!”
So essentially if we’re going to beat ourselves up in the tough time let’s make sure that positive voice shouts loud and proud in the good times: “Good for me.”