Overcoming the Agony of Defeat

As you may recall from my previous post, I accepted a challenge sponsored by fellow therapist and private practice consultant, Joe Sanok from Traverse City Michigan.  I outlined the ten tasks I needed to do before 10:00 a.m. for ten days in a row in that first post.  The first day was an overwhelming success.  I met my goal and completed all of the challenge tasks before 10:00 a.m.  I left my house and headed for the office feeling victorious.  I had my to do list in hand and was ready to tackle it with a vengeance.  As the day went on, I realized that there was no way I was going to complete everything I had outlined for myself that day.  At some point in the afternoon I began feeling overwhelmed and a little defeated.  Later that night I had to take my son to the Sleep Center for a sleep study.  I didn't sleep well and had to wake up at 5:00 a.m. the next morning after the completion of the study to prepare to go home.  I woke up with a migraine!  By the time I got home, all I wanted to do was take my migraine medicine and crawl back into bed.  I didn't get up again until 10:00 a.m. on Saturday and realized that I had failed my challenge for the day and it was only the second day in!  In that moment, I was so tempted to just throw in the towel and give up. Isn't that human nature?  We set lofty goals and then life throws a curveball at us that knocks us off track.  How many times have you started a diet only to blow it and give up?  Or maybe you set a budget only to have a car break down and hijack the money you had planned to use for something else.  If there is one thing we can count on, it is that life will be full of snares to trip us up in our best laid plans.  With regard to those challenges, we have a choice:  we can give up and throw in the towel or we can put one foot in front of the other and keep running the race. What makes the difference between those who succeed and those who fail?  Perseverance.  Those who succeed refuse to look at a slip up as a failure.  They are able to see the value in continuing to strive toward a goal despite a set back.  Those who fail can't move past the defeat to see the benefits of keeping on keeping on.  This boils down to attitude and vision.  Consider the words of Hebrews 12: 1-2 which says, "let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith." The writer of Hebrews speaks about the Christian faith as a race.  He acknowledges that there will be things that try to trip us up and entangle us as we run this race.  Rather than getting caught up in these snares, we need to throw them off and keep on running.  Perseverance is defined as "continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition" (Merriam-Webster).  Every failure is an opportunity to begin again.  It is an opportunity to evaluate what went wrong and correct it.  It is an opportunity to grow, become stronger, and persevere.  Too often I find myself in a position of defeat.  I listen to the negative self-talk that tells me I can't do it or that I was a fool to try.  I tell myself that I will never break free from the shackles that I am locked up in.  I wonder -  what self-talk do you get caught in that keeps you stuck on the sidelines rather than persevering toward your goals? How do we overcome this agony of defeat and get back up and keep on running the race? 1.  Figure out what is hindering you.  Is it negative self-talk, unfortunate circumstances, lack of a goal or vision, or maybe lack of confidence in your ability to succeed?  Maybe your goals were not realistic ...or maybe they weren't YOUR goals.  Do you let others set the standard for you?  Maybe you just tried to bite off too much all at once.  Whatever it is that hinders you, evaluate it so you can get rid of everything that hinders. 2.  "Throw off" those things keeping you stuck.  Challenge your negative self-talk. Change the lens through which you view your circumstances.  Do you feel like you are powerless?  What is one thing you CAN do to disentangle yourself from your circumstances and take charge of the situation.  I love the Serenity Prayer that is so often heard in 12 Step Meetings:
"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference."
3.  Set small goals along the way and celebrate when you reach those landmark moments.  Don't let yourself get stuck celebrating past achievements.  You still have more of the journey to tackle. 4.  Keep the forward momentum going and don't be afraid to stop along the way and evaluate your progress. As I come to the last day of the challenge, I can honestly say that I have not been successful in completing all ten items by 10:00 a.m. every day.  However, I have made some observations which have helped propel me forward in the vein that this challenge started:
  1. Not all of the goals were MY goals.  The challenges sounded good in theory, but my heart wasn't in all of them.  I had to stop and evaluate what was important to me and adjust my goals to match my own values and priorities.
  2. Trying to change ten things all at once is daunting!  For me, I work better when I focus my efforts on making one change at a time.  Once I have successfully incorporated that change into my daily routine, then I can tackle the next one.
  3. I realized that my body has a natural built-in wakeup time.  My children were on Fall Break the last two weeks and I didn't have to set my alarm as early.  I found that my body naturally woke up around 7:15 a.m. every day before my alarm went off.  I actually felt more well-rested and had more energy when I listened to my body's natural circadian rhythm.
  4. Challenging myself to move outside my well-worn habits was instrumental in helping me see that I can aspire to more than I thought I could.  When I get comfortable and repeat the same patterns, I become stagnant.  If I want to grow, I have to do something different.
  5. One day I wasn't able to have coffee by 10:00 a.m.  I went all day without it and my family noticed.  I was grumpy all day.  That was a wakeup call to let me know that perhaps I am more addicted to caffeine than I was ready to admit!  The positive side of giving up coffee by 10:00 a.m. (and I admit there have been days this didn't happen) was that I drank more water.  I'm not totally ready to give up coffee.  As a public service to those around me, I will have to take baby steps in that area.  However, I am more aware of the way if affects my body and more motivated to limit it.