Walking (imperfectly) in her shoes – 2016

It’s almost March, and that means it’s time to dust off the walking shoes and start training for the Care Australia Walk In Her Shoes Challenge. This will be the third year I’ve participated in the challenge,  which will take place between 8-14 March.

In 2014, my first year, I set an official target of 20,000 steps a day, which in my mind was really 25,000 steps, and I finished with a total of 183,214 steps.

Competitive Me was very keen to top that last year, so I set myself a goal of 26,000 steps per day, but I intended to top my total, as well as beating my longest walk of 2014 (12.45 km). I did all this, which was great – 199,609 steps over the week and 16.58 km in 2 hours and 53 minutes on the sixth day. I also raised almost twice my fundraising goal, which was helped, I’m sure, by some publicity in the local papers organised by CARE.

I don’t feel as prepared this year, and my current step goal is only 12,000 steps a day, which I’ve been getting nowhere near some days. I think I’d better start walking on the weekends because I’ve set myself a daily step goal of 20,000 steps.

At the end of last year’s challenge I thought that Competitive Me would be back this time, determined to crack the 200,000 step mark for the week, since I got so close last year. But I’m not going to do that.

In the past, I would have felt disappointed with myself for not wanting to try and do better this year. My tendency to set myself high standards would have come through, and Competitive Me would have set out to break last year’s total. Competitive Me would have felt like I was letting myself down for not even trying.

But I’ve been trying to be a bit easier on myself recently, and I feel comfortable with lowering my expectations, which feels really unusual. I feel like I’ve shifted into a new headspace.

It goes a bit like this:

I always thought that being hard on myself and aiming to do things perfectly (or not at all, because if I can’t do it perfectly I’m not going to do it) was something that was wrong with me and was something that I needed to fix. I spent years telling myself that I had it all wrong, and that I should lower my standards and accept “done” rather than “perfect”. But I never could. This never rang true for me. “Done” wasn’t good enough, no matter how hard I tried to convince myself otherwise and how hard I tried to stamp out the nagging perfectionist voice.

A few unrelated comments from unconnected people and equally unconnected passages from unrelated books over a period of several years were brewing away in my mind as I continued to believe that there was something wrong with me and that for me to change and overcome this perfection paralysis, I’d have to fix myself.

And one day it dawned on me that this was completely not true.

Some connections were finally made in my mind, and it slowly dawned on me that setting high standards for myself was part of what makes me me. In acknowledging this, I realised that by trying to “fix” it I was denying a part of my essential nature. Just like trying to “fix” my introversion, my height or my foot size, it cannot be done. And ultimately, I was stressing myself out and not being true to myself by trying to change it.

So I slowly began to realise that I can accept that I am what I am.

The traits in me that I perceive as being overwhelmingly negative are neither good nor bad. They just are. They are traits. Nothing more. There are times they serve me well and there are times they don’t. They can be used positively or they can be used negatively.

I think my mistake has been to focus on the times that a particular trait hasn’t been helpful or has held me back – and perhaps there have been many more times it’s been unhelpful than helpful – and make a projection onto the trait that it’s bad full stop, so I have to get rid of it so that I can be a better person.

I now believe that any trait can be expressed in a positive way or a negative way. Any trait can be a strength or a weakness, depending on how you use it. For example, setting high standards for yourself can lead you to achieve great things while you remain relatively stress-free and committed to what you’re doing. If you don’t achieve everything perfectly you’re okay with that and you don’t see it as a failure. You’ve still achieved what you’ve achieved and that’s pretty amazing. Setting high standards can be a positive thing.

But there’s a point where it can tip over into the negative, and that’s the time you start to get obsessed with getting things done perfectly, you beat yourself up if you don’t, and you set yourself higher and higher standards that become impossible to meet. You put all this stress on yourself to live up to your expectations, even when they’re impossible to meet. And then you feel terrible because not only did you (a) not do whatever it was to the standard you set, but because (b) you set the (probably not achievable) expectation in the first place, and if you weren’t such a perfectionist you wouldn’t have expected so much of yourself, so you should stop demanding so much of yourself and not be like this any more because setting high expectations is something you shouldn’t do . . . It’s a vicious circle.

I suspect that Competitive Me is like this, and wants me to walk 30,000 steps a day this year. And Competitive Me would drive me to do it, even if I was asleep on my feet. And Competitive Me would be devastated if I didn’t get there.

And that’s fine. I set high bars for myself. It’s what I do. I won’t lie. I’m tempted. I want to. I have no doubt that I could push myself very hard and walk 200,000 steps or even 210,000 in a week. But my life and my circumstances are different this year, and 20,000 steps a day will be challenging enough on most days. I’m struggling reaching my current 12,000 steps some days, and some days, well let’s not look at them . . .

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So instead of signing up to walk 30,000 steps right away and moving into training overdrive to make sure I didn’t fail (Because failure is not an option), I asked myself a couple of questions.

  • “Do you think this is reasonable given where you are right now?”
  • “Would you be taking good care of yourself if you set such a high expectation and pushed yourself to exhaustion?”
  • “Does it help you get to where you want to be by demanding this of yourself, when you can participate in the challenge with any step count you like? The point is to participate, not to break yourself.”

The answer was no in every case.

I am what I am. There’s nothing wrong with me setting high standards for myself and there’s nothing wrong with pushing myself to live up to them. It’s what I do.

But where Competitive Me would have been anxious, stressed and mad at myself for not trying to outdo last year’s steps (and/or for setting the high goal and not making it), I’m recognising that yes, I  want to do this, but instead of letting Competitive Me put me down about it, I’m  giving myself permission to not do it because it isn’t something I can do right now. I’m giving myself permission to feel okay about it.

It’s a huge mindset change.

So Competitive Me will not be walking 200,000 steps in a week, and I don’t feel guilty or like I’ve let myself down for not trying to do it. I’m aiming to do the best I can from where I am right now. That feels really good.

Now where did I put those shoes?

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