My worst critic

Psychologists say that we are our worst critic. Indeed as a perfectionist-in-recovery (and yes I relapse many times) this is a fact I realized some years ago, when one of my friends told me that I am too hard on myself. Even my supervisor used to tell me that whenever it was performance appraisal time.

How many times have you heard someone say “It’s never that serious” to blow off the implications of something not done or forgotten? That’s not an easy statement for me since almost everything is serious! You should see my process for washing dishes. Whenever someone offered to do dishes for me in the past I’d either refuse – graciously – or stand by to supervise noting the ones that needed a second touch and of course to arrange them as they “should” be on the dish rack. I know you’re probably diagnosing me with OCD right now.

Anyway, my perfectionist tendencies aside, we are our worst critic. And that sometimes can be a problem because if we’re not careful we speak so negatively to ourselves that it erodes our self-esteem. Last year I decided that I needed to play a sport. After high school where I played basketball and was an active swimmer and a runner (hmmm! How far I’ve fallen) I haven’t played any sports, competitively or not. So after ruling out team sports like basketball I decided tennis was the game for me since I figured it is something I can play even when I get older (and slower).

This is one of the goals I made for 2014: to devote myself to tennis classes going at least twice a week for 3 months. I had found a coach in August last year and taken a couple of classes before I took a break – for 3 months! First week of January I called up my coach and we started my classes again and I’ve been going twice every week since the year began. Yay! Tennis looks pretty simple and I take pride in being a fast learner so imagined it would be easy peasy. Right! Now I understand why tennis players make noises as they hit the ball in professional matches. And so frustration began.

Sometimes I hit a good ball and I’m flushing with pride. Then other times (most of the time) I wonder if I should consider another sport or just stick with the gym. I think my coach must wonder if he is a poor teacher. Hardly! I love having a coach because he gives me feedback on how I’m doing – praises the good play but most of all the technique and he forces me to review myself – why did that shot go so high or out? Why do you think you do better playing under pressure than relaxed? This has helped me build a habit of introspection and objective self review. I realized that when relaxed I spend too much time over-analyzing and overthinking everything. “Am I holding my racket right? What’s wrong with me…this is really simple and I can’t seem to get it? Really, was that the best you could do?” And in this process I lose focus on the next ball and I continue to kick myself in the derrière. Whilst playing under pressure I discovered that I focus more on the ball and stretch/push myself further.

So I am all for self-criticism but we have to learn the art of doing it positively without the self denigration. I think the most important questions to ask in retrospect and introspect (does that word exist?) are: why did it happen that way? And what can I do to fix it or prevent it from happening again? The Japanese concept of Kaizen is a philosophy of continuous improvement, change for the best. And that really is what we should aim for. Not perfection – because we could die or “kill” others trying to achieve that. But rather, excellence which aims to always do our best. Go ahead and kick yourself in the derrière when you don’t quite get it right but remember to move on and get better at it. That’s how champions are made…by determining to become better each time. So tennis, bring it on!

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