Scared to win? (long)
Friday, August 31, 2012
This has been a regular topic for me, and I apologize if I sound like a broken record. But blogging has helped me release many of my inner demons, and this is one of my last holdouts (I hope!).
I'm not entirely sure how it started, but somewhere along the line, I've learned to let other people win.
In school, I would work extra hard on team assignments so everyone would get a good grade. I didn't want to be the one to let everyone else down. I never wanted anyone to feel bad about themselves, so in direct competition, I had a tendency to throw the fight (so to speak) and let the other person win.
It didn't always happen, though. When faced with real competition, I would step up to the plate. I won my grade school's spelling bee when I was in 6th grade - no one that young had ever won. Then I surprised them all again by winning a second time two years later...something else no one had ever done. The only comment I remember hearing on that day was someone's mom asking why I didn't have the decency to let someone else win since I had already won once before.
And when I was on a pool league as an adult, I beat our toughest competition's best player. Later that same night, however, I suffered a horrible loss to their worst player. Consistency is not my forte.
I always thought it all stemmed from me not wanting other people to feel bad about losing. But lately I've been seeing an alarming trend.
In recent years, I've been competing against myself. I'm trying to lose a certain amount of weight by a certain time, or increase my pace or endurance or strength or whatever.
No matter what my goal is, I fail. If my goal is to lose 10 pounds in a month, I lose 9. If I want to lose 20 pounds in 6 months, I lose 19. Why? Because I get close to that goal and start eating everything in sight.
I set a goal to finish a 5k in 40 minutes. After 7 months of training, I finished in 42 minutes. Why? Because I walked.
I set out to do 10 assisted pull-ups. Instead I gave up at 8. Why? Because 8 is close enough.
This past weekend I finished my first sprint triathlon since 2009. My goal was to finish in less than 2 hours. But as soon as I hit the water, my brain started talking. "It's ok to go slower. Why do you need to finish in 2 hours? If you meet that goal, then you have to set a new one. No one likes a show-off. It's enough to just participate - no need to push. Save your strength."
This is something my trainer has commented on before, but I thought he was just reading into my lack of strength as lack of will. But he said there was something in my head stopping me from pushing harder. He told me I could do a lot more than I was doing, but I was stopping myself.
I pondered his comments as I walked (yes, walked) the 5k portion of the triathlon. I had the energy to run. I had trained to run. I needed to run in order to meet my goal. But I walked. Sometimes I ran, when I felt guilty for giving up on myself and my goals. Towards the end, I thought to myself, "what would happen if this time, just this once, you actually met your goal?" I figured I had already blown it, but another little thought fought its way to the surface, "you owe it to yourself to do your best and do what you've trained to do. Get moving!"
There was another girl who had been right with me the entire time, passing me when I walked and being passed by me when I ran. She offered to run with me to the end. We started to go and she asked if I could go faster. I said yes and we took off sprinting. If not for this girl, I don't know if I would have run as fast. She made me fight hard to keep up. But I did it. I sprinted to the finish line. I sprinted for a 1/4 mile. And I could have kept going. I hadn't used up all my energy...not exactly how you want to end an endurance event. The goal is always to feel like you couldn't take one more step. That's how you know you gave it everything you had and did your best.
So I didn't do my best. But did I meet my goal? My wave started somewhere around 8:00 am, give or take. I asked my husband what time it was, expecting him to say 10:30. Instead, he said "10:05 am. I think you crossed at 10:00." All day long I waited for the official results. Finally, they were posted. My time was 1:59:59. I hadn't blown it! For the first time in my life, I met a goal.
I wanted to be elated. I wanted to jump for joy. But instead I felt down, and those evil little thoughts cropped up, contradicting each other. "You could have done better. You didn't push hard enough. How dare you get excited? Nobody likes a show-off." But then, a timid little thought broke through: "You did it. Be proud. Now, what else can you accomplish?"
At my training session two days later, my trainer told me that I was on my honor for rest breaks. He said he would no longer tell me when it was time to rest, that it was up to me to decide when I needed a break and he would just keep throwing stuff at me until I called time out. He hurled exercises at me like a drill sergeant. I took 3 30-second breaks during the 50-minute workout, just long enough to get some water. I felt strong and wanted to see how much I could take. My trainer asked me what got into me. He said I've never worked so hard or pushed so much. He was thrilled that the psychological barrier he'd always tried to break through was finally gone.
Gone? Really? I'm not so sure. But maybe I'm closer to figuring this thing out. Maybe it's ok to win.