This article was originally published on ABC News Online.
My client began our training session this week in tears. She was furious at herself for falling off the bandwagon and gaining a few kilos.
This is a woman who has lost an incredible amount of weight over the past few years. On top of training really hard, she’s done the tough emotional work to understand why she always struggled with her weight — and has now completely changed her lifestyle.
She has accomplished something many people would never have the balls to even try.
Yet here she was, sitting on the gym floor with tears in her eyes because she’d “failed”. Oh yeah, and it was her birthday.
Another client can’t stand her body and desperately wants to increase her fitness, even though she’s fitter and leaner than me — and I’m a personal trainer.
The worst bit is, this isn’t unusual. Almost every day I have to listen to incredible women berating themselves in the most nuclear way for being ‘weak’, or ‘dumb’, or just ‘not good enough’. Can’t do 10 chin-ups the first time they ever try — ‘useless’. Went out on the weekend and drank too much wine — ‘why do I even bother trying to be healthy at all?’
And on it goes. So many of us are trapped on a pendulum with perfectionism. I mean, if we can’t exercise, parent, eat or clean our homes perfectly, why even give it a shot?
Because we think near enough is never good enough, we often swing in the complete opposite direction, where we do things like binge-eat rubbish and stop exercising altogether.
We just can’t seem to understand that there’s a middle ground and that’s where human beings hang out.
My best friend and I have this long-running joke about all the things we’re currently “workshopping” about ourselves — and our lists are long. Every time we talk we slap on another few bullet points. But that’s just it with us. We’re always being workshopped, because there’s always something to improve on, to do better, to learn.
My lifelong struggle with anxiety is number one on my list. And, boy, don’t I get very anxious that I haven’t workshopped that issue into oblivion. I must be doing something wrong. Better add that to the list: workshop not being anxious about being anxious that I haven’t cured my anxiety yet. (I know how that sounds.)
My BF’s been keeping a gratitude journal where each day she writes down one thing she accomplished that day she’s proud of.
One accomplishment last week was that she managed to go for a walk without stressing that she wasn’t walking fast enough…
Don’t get me wrong, I realise there are women who are happy to phone it in, just as I know some blokes aren’t happy with anything less than perfection.
But I’ve never heard a male client trash-talk himself. When I ask how nutrition is going, most often the answer is, “Drinking all the beers, eating all the kebabs — oh yeah, and I haven’t been doing that training program you wrote for me, either. Pretty funny, really.”
So what is it about the women I work with? I could write an opus on society and sexism and gender roles, but at the end of the day, in 2015, why we can’t just cut ourselves some slack?
A little self acceptance
In one of my yoga teacher training courses (I’m about to begin my third, because obviously one wasn’t enough, because I’m still not perfect at teaching yoga and still don’t know everything about this centuries-old practice), a lecturer said something that really stuck with me:
“Instead of self improvement, how about we all practise a little self acceptance?”
I know, what a completely radical idea, right? Mind blown.
Seriously though — why is it so hard to accept that maybe we’re enough exactly as we are?
Imagine that: you wake up one morning and feel perfectly content with how you’re travelling in life right now. Nothing to workshop. Nothing to punish yourself for. No endless to-do list stuck on repeat in your head. What an incredible relief it’d be to just stop caring so much.
In theory it seems so easy, but, personally, I think it’d be the hardest thing I could ever do.
Just when I decided to write this column, someone coincidentally tagged me in this quote on Facebook:
“Accept yourself as you are. And that is the most difficult thing in the world, because it goes against your training, education, your culture. From the very beginning you have been told how you should be; nobody has ever told you that you are good as you are.”
So here’s what I want to tell my clients (and anyone else who’ll listen), in the hope it will help relieve some of that epic and unrealistic pressure we put on ourselves to be perfect.
- Nine times out of 10, close enough is good enough.
- You are enough. Exactly as you are.
Because it’s the truth.
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