The danger with being too hard on yourself

At the end of last year I wrote about progress and specifically about a challenge I set myself to run 500 miles in a year. Which I did, and I was thankful for doing it, it’s always nice to set yourself challenges and complete them, especially if they’re positive health related things. Of course, there’s two sides to every story and, although I was very proud of myself for achieving that goal. It actually came with some heartache as well and I realised that at some points throughout the journey, there’s a problem with being too hard on yourself sometimes.

Because sometimes the problem with having a goal, even one you set yourself, is you can almost kill yourself trying to achieve it. And there were many points last year when I made myself pretty f-ing miserable, trying to achieve something, to prove something only to myself. And that’s a dangerous road to go down mentally.

I, like lots of people, had put on a bit of weight during lockdown. Partly due to not being able to get out and exercise and partly due to the fact we now work from home so my lifestyle is even more sedentary than it used to be, but either way, after my birthday at the end of July I vowed to just make some small, healthy changes, eat better, eat less and exercise more. I put the idea in my head that on the first of every month, I wanted to be lighter than I was on the first of the previous month. You know, progress and all that. And that almost became a ‘by any means necessary’ kind of challenge.

I remember one week specifically in September where I was at my absolute lowest because of this mindset. I was calorie counting using my Fitbit (which has always worked for me, and if done sensibly I think if a great way to maintain a healthy diet). I’d started to over exercise though. I was also going through a small run of not sleeping very well and I was pressuring myself to rank up the running miles to be on track to complete my 500 miles that year. A promise I had made to nobody but myself.

I was shattered. But I was running and going to the gym like a zombie, which was making me more shattered but I was too scared not to because I wanted to make sure I was lighter than I was at the beginning of the month. And the stress and pressure I was putting myself under meant I wasn’t sleeping. Oh, and if I knew I had a meal out or a slice of cake coming up, I would do a little bit of extra exercise to ‘earn’ it. It was a horrible downward cycle and I felt like shit.

How on earth is this a healthy existence? It dawned on me when I stayed over at Emma’s on the Friday night at the end of that week, and she said how slim I was looking. I should have been thrilled, that’s what I wanted after all, but I wasn’t thrilled, I just told her how shattered I was. That was a wake up call to me.

My point is, progress is great and it’s amazing what you can achieve if you work hard and put your mind to it. But not at the expense of your happiness. I still exercise most days but it’s a much more positive experience, it’s what I want, and when I want it. I think the ongoing ‘challenge’ is going to be keep myself healthy and happy. Because you can’t truly have one without the other.

And I need to give myself a break every now and again too, because if I’m too hard on myself too often, it ends up being counter productive and I don’t get my my goals any quicker.

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