Congratulating Yourself

I’m really, really hard on myself. Harder than I realize most of the time, I think. I was at the gym the other day, and I watched this very muscular guy do some kind of exercise. I started imagining him as someone who was just beginning to get into working out, and I thought that there must have been a reason for it. Maybe he was fat, or maybe really skinny. In either case, he found the motivation to get from there to where he is today, even though he started from a place he obviously wanted to get away from.

I find fitness goals depressing if I don’t allow myself to be happy with the small successes, such as actually getting myself to the gym. There are no immediate results after a workout (in terms of physical appearance), so in order to keep going, I have to find something else to be happy about. I know the goal is worth it, and I’m on the right path, but it’s a long one — I have to find a way to enjoy my time on it, even if I’m still 5-10 pounds overweight. I guess the endorphins help with that, but even so, it was hard at first. I still have some work to do in keeping my motivation up for attaining fitness goals, but I rarely believe that I will never be able to reach them. I’ve conditioned myself to be “okay” with the fitness aspect of my life, and this is because I know how to motivate myself: patting myself on the back constantly. Similarly, the muscle guy no doubt found and finds his motivation in his self-congratulations after every workout, as well.

It never occurred to me that it could be the same for many, if not all, other goals. If I constantly told myself I was fat and not capable of changing, I would never go to the gym. Ever. This is a behaviour that would be in direct conflict with achieving my goals. Why should I be allowed to be this hard on myself when it comes to other areas of my life?

I guess part of the reason it might be easier to keep fitness in check is because though results are slow to appear, they eventually do, and they’re easily recognizable because they always look the same. There’s also only one factor involved in getting there: exercising. If you’re not getting more fit, you’re not exercising enough. If you’re not exercising, there’s no way you can hope to get fit. Also, there’s no place for luck or randomness; you don’t expect it, you don’t depend on it, you don’t wait for it. Single variable equation. You do something, something happens. You don’t, it won’t.

However, I’d argue that other types of goals follow basically the same pattern. First of all, though results are sometimes invisible, they are there — they’re just better felt than seen. For example, if you’re working out, you’re getting stronger. No matter how strong you are, the situations you find yourself in will always either be manageable or not. The goal is to have the majority of your situations become ones you can handle, so you aim to become stronger. If you find yourself having an easier time than before in some area of your life, you’re probably on the right track. If you find yourself in difficult situations most of the time, it could mean your training program isn’t effective. As an alternative interpretation, you could just be making some wrong decisions and ending up in places that don’t make it easy for you to congratulate yourself for what you’ve accomplished. You’re living beyond your ability; you’re choosing weights that are too heavy to train with.

So let’s say you’re setting social goals for yourself, pushing yourself to achieve them and you find you’re not getting good results. Maybe it’s because you’re making bad decisions in your career, for example, and meeting the wrong people. It doesn’t necessarily mean your social skills haven’t improved in previous situations, it just means you’re not equipped to handle these particular ones, and maybe they are even too difficult for you to learn from. You’re unhappy, unable to be productive, unable to see any results to congratulate yourself for, unable to motivate yourself. Is there something you notice you might be able to work on to improve your situation? If yes, then do it; maybe the weights aren’t too heavy, after all. If not, go find other situations.

Second of all, I believe that most of what you get in life is proportional to what you give. I guess there exists something called “luck,” and sure, you could get famous overnight by some mysterious working of the universe, but usually not. You have to find a way to keep giving, in order to keep getting, and no one else can give you the kind of support and encouragement that you can give yourself. Some goals might be harder for you to attain than they would be for others; some people have a talent for being social, creative, sporty, whatever. But lack of talent shouldn’t stop you — you might be missing out on some serious life. You just have to keep congratulating yourself for the small successes, in whatever form they appear. Growth is happiness!

I’ve never been very good at giving myself a cookie. I mean, too many cookies is bad because you’d start to overlook the work that needs to be done, but I’m so unforgiving that I often experience crippling despair and then I’m of no use to anyone. I need to figure out a way to keep my productivity up. I think this list is a good way to keep myself in check, to remind myself of what I want to accomplish and what I do accomplish. But there are many steps between wanting to accomplish something and accomplishing something, and there’s no one to push me to keep stepping except myself. How will I do this?

I’ve decided to write about at least one success a day for a week, regardless of how small. Writing about it will force me to think about it for more than a second, which is what usually happens, and having it written will give me something to refer to when I’m feeling down.

Today I’m going to congratulate myself for my bravery the other night when I walked into that bar alone. It might seem insignificant to someone else, but it was very satisfying for me. I’d been wanting to try it for a long time in order to assess the bar scene’s friend-making potential. And it worked! Every time I eliminate a fear, it makes life just a little bit more accessible.

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