“The worst bullies you will ever encounter in your life are your own thoughts.” – Bryant McGill
We have tackled a similar topic on here twice before (see here and here), but given that this article crossed my path today, I felt as though another post with a different approach might be appropriate. (For the record, the article referenced is a must read for everyone.)
For years and years throughout my childhood, I was an avid bowler. I participated in junior leagues as a kid, and then advanced to the senior leagues up through my senior year of high school. In fact, I won my first bowling trophy (actually a plaque) at the age of 4, though I am convinced that I was a ploy to raise the handicap of our team. After that I parlayed my bowling experience into the greater fortunes of the law school bowling league, while at the same time creating a year and a half streak of attendance at the Monday night “All-You-Can-Bowl” special (with friends, of course!).
For those who have seen me bowl, it is not always a pretty sight. Among the words I have heard uttered by those as witness are violent, intense, aggressive, angry, and rage. Apparently to others, I throw the ball fairly hard, and I have a bit of what you would call a “herky-jerky” delivery. The words I would have used to describe my bowling growing up are inconsistent, substandard, work in progress, underachieving, and unreached potential. This from someone who carried a 196 average when I stopped.
The fact of the matter was that I was extremely hard on myself and absolutely demanded a perfection that was unattainable in my mind. I beat myself up when I did not throw a strike or missed a spare conversion, and always nitpicked every performance no matter how good or bad. I let the anger overtake me and it began to consume my performance. There were many many times where my parents took me into the locker room at the bowling alley to give me an attitude adjustment, and other times where I just received it in front of everyone else.
I bullied myself. Plain and simple. I wanted so bad to have my average begin with a 2 that every miss, every non-strike became a failure, where I told myself I was not good enough. I was my own worst critic, and worst of all, I believed myself.
As I look back on it now, I realize how silly it must have all looked. The thrown towels, the aggression against the ball return rack, the angrily smacked hands with every miss, and any other negative antic. (It even sounds as bad as it probably looked.) The funny thing is that I never bowled well when I was angry, and the worse I bowled the angrier I got.
Now, I am not advocating that everything should be rose petals and gum drops. We should certainly have expectations for ourselves. However, those expectations and demands should be about striving and working hard to better ourselves one day at a time (the process) and not about whether our bowling average begins with a 2 (the result).
And please, please, please, ease up on yourself and those around you a little bit. What I was never able to get through my thick skull back then was that it is perfectly normal to mess up, as long as I learn from it. But by continually bullying myself and telling myself that I was not good enough or I was a failure, I started to believe it, which only makes things worse.
I witness this behavior now on the baseball field, and implore my players to stop it before it becomes too late. Anger over a call, self-frustration because we made an error, struck out, or lost, the throwing of helmets in the dugout, against fences, or into our bat bags. Not to mention, we start taking the aggression out on our teammates and coaches.
We start playing sports because they look fun and when we are young, we play them like we are having fun. Somewhere along the way, we forget the fun and begin to find a flaw with everything we do. When someone knocks us off our agenda and our plan, then we start to get irate.
Sometimes, it is perfectly normal to hit the brakes, and as the article above says, just tell yourself to STOP!
Now, when I feel myself begin to negatively criticize (not constructively, there is a difference), I pause and quietly say, “Go away.”
That little tapping of the brakes allows me to collect myself, watch the bully race on by, and enjoy the present for what it is—either a happy moment or an opportunity to learn and grow.
Ease off the gas. Take some pressure off yourself. It will be the biggest favor you ever do for yourself.
Bring your best today!