I don’t really participate the whole New Year’s resolution hubbub. That being said, I do get that adrenaline rush from the idea of a fresh start and some good ol’ goal setting. Or a fresh new notebook. (I am a sucker for a fantastic notebook.)
Anyhow, I go through cycles throughout the year of gym-going, book-reading, meal-planning and all the things I guess I think I am supposed to improve upon as an adult. Sometimes I do quite well. But I don’t really see it that way—and it sucks.
Take exercise, for example. I set a goal to exercise four times in a week. Then, my week ends and I have exercised three times in said week. Do I celebrate the three times I busted my arse?! Nope. I harp on the one stupid workout that I missed or skipped. Or, I set a goal to start meal planning and to prepare home-cooked-goodness five nights in a week. Even, if by some miracle, I meet that goal, I still beat myself up because I don’t sustain it in the weeks that follow.
“No Martha, those five healthy, delicious, locally-grown, cruelty-free meals you just made your family don’t count. Sorry. Try again.”
Why does my brain do this? Am I alone here? Is there anyone out there?
Actually, I know you’re out there. In the world of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), this negativeve self-talk is called “filtering” or “negative filtering” or “mental filtering.” It is one of the many cognitive distortions people can experience. The general idea is that you filter only the potentially negative sides of things and then magnify them. This can result in everything positive—the success, the accomplishment—being completely overshadowed.
WTF brain?! Why would you do this to me? I just did all those burpees and then ate millet and ramps. Let me mentally celebrate a little, will ya?
As if getting along with ALL THE PEOPLE (kids, husband, parents, in-laws, colleagues, neighbors, etc.) weren’t enough, now I need to get along with my own head? Like, tell myself to stop bullying myself. Blerg. Doesn’t seem fair.
From what I can gather, there are two possible solutions. One is something they call “cognitive restructuring” or “reframing.” The negative filtering is a stress-inducing habit. With restructuring or reframing, you can work to alter or rewire those habits and hopefully, decrease or eliminate that mental stress.
The second solution is to set your goals low. I’m talking exercise-once-a-month, read-one-book-this year, don’t-eat-pizza-three-times-in-a-week low. Then, I can spend all my mental energy focusing on the goals I have achieved. And more importantly, tell everyone I know that I have achieved 100 percent of the goals I set.
The choice is yours—but for me? I am going with the latter. Buh-bye stress! See you in 2020!
…I am only half kidding. My real answer is to set some realistic goals that not only allow for, but promote growth, rather than perfection. What am I actually going to do?
When my bully brain is telling me I am a bum for skipping a work out, I will force myself to say out loud, maybe even to a witness (get ready husband), that I did exercise three times this week. And that I had more fun running and playing with my girls because I was not as winded. That’s what it’s really all about, right? We set these goals so we can enjoy life more. Be happy more. Feel fulfilled more.
So, give it a shot. Silence that Debby Downer voice and, even if it feels really hokey at first, say the positive stuff out loud. For real.