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“Just follow the ball. Sounded so simple. How clutzy can I be? Why can’t I get this? I missed every single volley. What is my problem. I should have this already. Might as well give up. I’m hopeless. What do you mean, maybe second lesson?”

It’s hard to be fair to ourselves, even when we understand the logic of doing so. It’s hard to pause and recognize what we are doing in the middle of doing it. While hard, it’s not impossible. Learning to pause has helped me be kinder to myself, has helped me try and stick with things I would otherwise have quit, and has provided me with many more moments of joy than I would otherwise have had.

In the middle of self-condemning tirades, I have worked to look more closely at what I was doing. I have asked myself if my expectation of instant prowess was fair or realistic. Would I like it if someone else had those expectations of me? If the answer was no, maybe it was possible to stop having those expectations myself.

Maybe it was possible to increase my patience with myself, and allow myself a longer and more realistic timeframe to master something. I could pat myself on the back for small gains along the way, motivating me to keep working to improve. I have realized that when I don’t do these things, when I place unfair expectations on myself and become my harshest critic, it often led to avoidance rather than continued attempts.

I am too scared to put even one line down. What if I choose the wrong color? What if this painting looks like a child did it? What if I make it too big or too small? What if I run out of room on the paper?”

What if I looked at the framework I placed around the choices that I made, that led to the inner voices I heard? Often, the loudest, most habitual voices get listened to and followed. What if I made a conscious choice about the voice that would lead to the best possible outcome?

I could ask myself if I really wanted to listen only to the anxious voice of perfection seeking. Or perhaps I might also listen to the zen voice of calm attentiveness. This voice might lead me to look at experiences as opportunities for joyful involvement, instead of only as moments where I had to prove myself.

I could ask myself if I could become more involved in the doing than the achieving, focusing on the process more than the end result. It’s not necessarily a case of either or, but rather, where we put our priorities. Ironically, when we focus more on the process, the end result is often enhanced.

In order to listen to and follow this inner voice, I would likely have to choose to ignore other inner voices as well as others’ voices that conflicted with this outlook. It might help to remind myself of the framework I was choosing to follow, and use tools such as slow breathing and pausing and editing my assumptions in the moment.

Doing so might not only help me to be more fair to myself, but might help me feel more comfortable trying experiences I might have otherwise avoided. I might find more moments of joy and fewer of worrying over outcomes. Quoting James Taylor “The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time”!

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