How Much Cutting Slack is Too Much?

Posted on July 21, 2020 · Posted in blog, Uncategorized

In a recent session with a client, a woman in her thirties trying to find a new job in a recession-stricken Covid-19-hit South Africa, she said:

“If I cut myself some slack, I will not be pushed to achieve and will be forever stuck in mediocrity.”

And, absolutely not for the first time, it hit me: how do we manage to repeatedly undermine ourselves by making perfection the enemy of good; and how being an OK person, which is a lot, actually, is not accepted as OK at all. By ourselves, not just by others judging us.

Because, here’s the thing: if you’re OK with how you are, others will be too, and those who aren’t won’t matter that much.

I found that being accepting of myself is what enables me to make better choices, even if to others they may look weak, unambitious, or wrong for whatever reason. Because it is my life and not theirs.

The only people whose opinion I will take to heart are those that I chose as significant to me: my husband, my children, my closest friends, my closest family (sometimes), my coach or mentor, or the occasional therapist I might engage for a while.

That’s my gold standard, at least, of how I try to make my choices: what is best for me, and for my loved ones, and what isn’t.

“What’s best” is not that straightforward though, is it?

Because sometimes it is the best for that moment, but it is not always a good idea. Grabbing that slab of chocolate when watching a TV series was comforting and fun for the first time, a day into Covid lockdown. But it is a bad idea as a new habit, unless I wish to come out of lockdown double the current size.

Avoiding the gym because of a headache is necessary if I have self compassion. But avoiding it regularly means I haven’t committed to it enough.

So I am thinking about the link between commitment and effort (which often go hand in hand), on the one side – and happy, fun, flow, easy, on the other. Sometimes they align. But that’s lucky and might be rare for most of us.

Usually, in my life, it has been a balance between these two sides.

When I fully commit, heart and soul and mind to something, there are fewer obstacles of doubt, and I will make the effort, carry it through. When difficult moments arise, it is pretty easy to shut the inner critic up. But what about when commitment is shaky?

This is where the negotiation starts.

True and evident to anyone who ever tried to change eating habits. Reaching that golden path between enjoyment to indulgence; between self-management to self-sacrifice or even harm.

When I think of my best moments, what do I see?

They are the moments of accomplishing something – tiny or large:
The small achievements (I managed 60 minutes on the treadmill! I had such a good clarifying chat with my friend, I sent a nice condolences note to an old neighbour), and the large ones (I achieved a new professional credential, my son’s wedding went well, I renovated a house and love the result) – both serve as my “helpers”.

Other helpers are about self care, and self compassion: being just kind and fair to myself, making healthy choices. But, hugely: my helpers involve being kind and supportive to others, doing good deeds, listening well.

I look out for those helpers and try to have more of them in my life. Like in a healthy bank balance, they are my deposits.

The “hinderers” are my withdrawals. Middle aged, I am still identifying them, calling them out.

They are:

– Giving up when it’s hard, but only when it’s about something important to me.
– Doing too much self indulgence (food, watching movies, not exercising, opting out of socialising).
– Making bad food choices, including over eating.
– Comparing myself to others who are more successful, cleverer, more articulate, more stylish, thinner, younger, happier…the list goes on.

The effects of these withdrawals can be devastating. Their danger lies in our habituation to their existence. We are so used to scolding ourselves internally that we lose sight of how often and how venomous these inner critic agents are.

These hiderers are like a small vindictive army, taking away from my energy, my self esteem, my well being.

So, how much cutting slack is too much for you?

Are you able to check your personal list of helpers (deposits into your bank of wellbeing) and your hinderers (your withdrawals, your inner critic attacks?)