We said our final goodbye of the season to our garden Saturday. We still had carrots in the ground because the weather had been so warm we left them in to give them a chance to grow.
Well, as you can see from the picture, our carrots are nothing to look at this year. Part of the problem was the weird weather we had this year, but a bigger part of it was me.
I don’t know if you’ve ever seen them, but carrot seeds are tiny. It’s hard to space them evenly while you’re planting them, so it’s vital to thin them out. It’s a monotonous task, and I don’t always do a good job of getting them thinned out the way I should, which causes the small, misshapen carrots you see here.
This made me think about how sometimes, without even thinking about it, we can do or allow things that stunt our growth or slow our progress. Sometimes we need to thin things out of our lives.
Some things that may need thinning:
No, not the kind that ruin your picnics…. The kind we’re talking about here is something called Automatic Negative Thoughts. This term was coined by Dr. Daniel Amen, founder of the Amen Clinic and author of Change Your Brain, Change Your Life. These ANTs are the thoughts that pop up and make their way into our brains (and into our bodies via chemical changes) before we even realize we’re having them. As we’ve discussed before, our automatic thoughts can’t always be trusted. They don’t always tell the truth.
This means that we have to 1) be careful which of our thoughts we believe and 2) work to train our brains to process thoughts in more positive and hopeful ways. This may not be easy, particularly if we have long-running, deep-seated negative ways of processing the world around us, but with a little attention and work, it can be done. The first step is, of course, recognizing them for what they are. Once we realize they’ve popped up, we need to remember we don’t have to believe them, then take steps to deal with them. One way of doing this is simply talking back to them. Dr. Amen suggests writing the negative thought down and then writing a positive response. This helps reframe the negative thought and keep it from becoming entrenched.
Failure to believe in ourselves:
In the fitness world, we talk a lot about self-efficacy when we’re working to help people change their behaviors. Basically, self-efficacy is the belief that we can be successful. Often, while our outer voices may say we believe things can get better, or we believe we can do things to improve our health and quality of life, our inner voices may be telling us we’re ‘stuck’ where we are.
So how do we counter this? That’s where those small steps come in. We have to start out with small, achievable steps to help us build our confidence. If you’re dealing with fibromyalgia or another chronic illness, that first ‘small step’ might just be getting up and dressed each morning. No matter what the first step is, or how small it is, once we’re successful with it we realize we can make those small changes, one at a time and building on the previous one, until we’re where we want to be.
Being a perfectionist, and then being too hard on ourselves when we can’t do things perfectly:
This can often go hand-in-hand with the failure to believe in ourselves. We set our expectations too high, and when we don’t succeed, we beat ourselves up. Have you heard that saying, “Perfection is the enemy of progress”? That is particularly true when you’re dealing with a chronic illness. We never know from one day to the next what our bodies are going to allow us to do, and putting pressure on ourselves to do things perfectly or do things we’re not capable of leads to guilt and disappointment in ourselves. These feelings can stop us in our tracks and cause us to believe we don’t have any chance of getting better or making progress.
To prevent this we need to give ourselves grace. Remember those ANTs? Stomp them! We need to stop those negative thoughts in our tracks. Rather than beating ourselves up over what we didn’t do, or didn’t do perfectly, we can choose to look at what we did have success in. We have to learn to forgive ourselves when we don’t meet our expectations. There are always going to be things we’re not successful at, but the difference between failure and growth is often grace. Giving ourselves grace allows us to forgive our perceived failure rather than wallowing in it. This allows us to put that particular incident behind us and take the next small step forward.
Looking Too Far Ahead:
Please don’t misunderstand me – I’m not saying that we shouldn’t plan for the future or set goals. What I mean is that when we look too far down the road, sometimes all we can see are the obstacles. Have you ever said, “I’m glad I didn’t know how hard this was going to be” or “I’m glad I didn’t know then what I know now”? If we look at how far we have to go to get to our ultimate goal, we can become discouraged and give up before we’ve even started.
Taking a shorter view and looking at the ‘next steps’ we need to accomplish can help combat this problem. Think about it – if you’re barely able to get out of bed in the morning, is it easier to think “I need to walk 10,000 steps each day” or is it easier to think, “I need to walk to my kitchen”? Concentrating on the ‘here and now’ can help us gain the self-efficacy we talked about above and prevent us from being overwhelmed by how much we still have to do.
Sometimes we can inadvertently be our own worst enemies when it comes to growth and progress. Being aware of some of these progress-killers can help us watch out for them in our lives and ‘thin them out’ when they show up.
How do you thin out the things that have the potential to stunt your growth or delay your progress? Please share!