Yesterday, you ran 5 miles, prepared dinner for several nights, completed a complicated work project and organized your entire office. Or you checked off every task from your very long to-do list. Your focus barely waned and the day almost felt seamless.
Today, you showered, put cream cheese on a bagel, and feel like a zombie (or whatever has less energy than that).
Your brain is bare. In fact, you can barely string together simple sentences. Everything feels like it requires so much effort, effort you don’t have, effort you can’t fake, effort that no amount of cheerleading and affirmations can inspire. Everything feels forced or frustrating or wrong.
We expect ourselves to have the same exuberant energy every day. We expect ourselves to be happy, to be thoughtful, to be super motivated and super productive. If we blasted through our to-do lists the day before, we assume we should do the same today. We expect ourselves to run the same number of miles—if not more. (We should always be improving, right?!) We expect ourselves to be calm and collected. We expect ourselves to be bursting with ideas. We expect ourselves to be positive about our current struggles.
After all, that’s who and how we were yesterday.
But we are ever-evolving. We are human. We know this, of course. But oh how quickly we snap at ourselves when we’re moving slower, when we don’t have the same enthusiasm for life as we did 12 hours ago. How quickly we snap at ourselves for being “too sensitive,” for crying, for getting upset over silly things. How quickly we snap at ourselves for not doing 30 push-ups, for not holding a plank for over a minute (which, again, we’ve done before!). How quickly we snap at ourselves for taking forever to wash dishes and floors, for taking forever to respond to email, to organize, to make a meal, to do anything. How quickly we snap at ourselves for sitting down for too long.
We quickly abandon ourselves. Which I think might be the most dangerous thing about the most unrealistic expectation: When we don’t live up to our always-be-happy-energetic-super-productive-highly-motivated-amazing-decision-maker standards, we see ourselves as worthless, as someone who doesn’t deserve rest or love or self-compassion.
We discard ourselves like specks of dirt.
I think the first step in doing the opposite is to recognize our unrealistic expectation. Recognize that you expect yourself to be super human. Because sometimes, this expectation, though large, is subtle. We wake up a bit tired, and the voice starts: Why are you tired? You slept for 8 hours. That’s plenty. We move a bit slower. I need two cups of coffee to handle this day. There’s too much to do, and there’s no time to rest.
Ideas feel especially far away, and the disappointment starts to wash over us. Then a sense of failure starts building inside our bellies, and we just want to crawl back to bed. Which, of course, also angers us, and provides even more fuel for our inner critic.
We bombard ourselves with a litany of questions: Why the heck am I sooo tired? What’s wrong with me? Why does this always happen when I have so much to do? Why is this taking forever? Why can’t I be as productive as so and so? Why must I be anxious about the dumbest things?
I think the second step is to gently remind yourself of the truth. If it helps, keep your reminders visible, like on your computer. Keep them in your journal or phone. Remind yourself that you are different every day; that’s how nature works, that’s how you work, too. You can’t be exactly the same day in and day out. Because you are not a machine. You are not a robot.
Maybe the reason you’re exhausted today is precisely because you did so much yesterday. Maybe you’re exhausted because you’re stressed out. Maybe you’re exhausted because you don’t let yourself relax. Maybe your energy is sinking because you’re hungry or thirsty, and your brain needs some protein and carbs. Maybe you’re exhausted with little to no energy just because. Because our energy naturally ebbs and flows.
It doesn’t matter if we sleep the same number of hours and eat the same exact foods at the same exact times, we’re bound to be different. Because we are wonderfully complex living beings with complex emotions and thoughts and inner workings, wounds and worries.
Our not-so positive emotions serve as valuable messengers. Our anger may tell us that a boundary has been crossed. Our sadness and loneliness may tell us that we’re longing to reconnect to our spouse, or to reconnect to ourselves. Our anxiety may reveal our misgivings about someone or something. Our mistakes and poor decisions are lessons (if we’re willing to slow down and listen and explore).
We are so quick to judge ourselves, to insult ourselves, to deem ourselves unworthy. Instead of feeding the inner critic, maybe you can give yourself permission to move slowly today. Maybe you can give yourself permission to feel whatever you’re feeling, without condemning it. Maybe you can say, I wish I weren’t feeling this way. But I’m not going to stop myself. I might not like feeling angry or sad or exhausted, but I’m going to let myself feel it anyway.
This is not easy to do. Worthwhile things rarely are.