To start with, I have had issues of perfectionism, over expectations from my self and keeping high standards for my closed ones, and obsessing over small details.
To top it off, I have had high-performance anxiety, which means I find it really difficult to take a break.
For the past 4 months, since I decided I will take Sundays off from work… well, I couldn’t. I couldn’t even take a single complete Sunday off.
No wonder all this has helped me turn a lot of stress-releasing activities into stress-causing activities.
I went through a terrible breakup in September 2018, and my anxiety started showing up again. I went back to therapy, and my therapist recommended I should take a break from dating, and practice meditation.
For 3 months, I did that. Twice a day, I’d sit and meditate for 30 to 40min each. I went to even meditate for an hour-long session.
Life became normal, after a couple of months, and I went back to not meditating. I tried meditating a couple of times again after that, but I didn’t have a serious enough reason to dedicate myself.
This lockdown, when I decided to dedicate myself seriously to meditation, I kind of screwed up. For a long time, I couldn’t meditate for more than a couple of minutes.
Because I was over expecting, meditation became a stressful practice for me.
Instead of being a relaxing activity, it kind of became a stress-inducing practice.
How did I turn this around?
My coach pointed this out — that I keep high expectations of myself and everyone around me (classic perfectionist trait).
I became self-aware about this part. Over expecting, and trying to relive my 2-year-old meditation experiences, I forgot to enjoy the whole part. I didn’t let go of my expectations and ego.
Ego is the identities we have created for ourselves. My ego/identity was — I am the guy who meditates for 1hr twice a day. And that stopped me from starting from zero and enjoying my 10min meditation sessions.
Letting go of all this self-created pressure, now I have been meditating almost daily for 2–3 months, around 10–20min every day, sometimes twice a day. And it is such a rewarding practice.
I forgot that I am not competing with anyone but myself. I started keeping a scorecard.
I’ll note that I am reading 30k words every day, or I am reading 5 books a month, etc.
I started obsessing over numbers because my ego told me that I am the cool nerd guy who reads a lot. And people should know about it. Even if I can’t recall most of what I have read.
No matter how bad or repetitive a book would be, I had to finish it. Well, because I was keeping a score.
Instead of being an inspiration for others to start reading, I read books with an intention to show-off and satisfy my ego.
Yeah, reading books is supposed to be a fun activity. For me, it became a challenge on how much can I read, no matter if it’s benefitting me in any way or not.
How did I turn this around?
As soon as I became self-aware of all this happening, I paused and took a break from reading.
Having read 300+ books now, I could now judge a book from its cover, title, and blurb. So I started choosing books carefully.
I stopped counting, and I realized the ultimate goal for me is to learn and have fun.
I stopped showing off the books I was reading and started posting about all the lessons I have learned and executed. That shifted my identity from a book consumer to an executor and a thought leader.
Also, I started leaving books unfinished. After reading a few hundred books or so, you will realize that 80% of self-help books are repetitive in nature.
I would buy a book I wanted to, I would read a few chapters I wanted to, apply whatever I have learned, and then only if I wanted to finish the book, I would. Otherwise, I would just pick another book and move on.
I never wanted to be a bodybuilder. I admit for some time I wanted to get six-pack abs. Though, I always wanted to lose weight, gain muscle, and become more energetic.
Gymming was supposed to be fun for me.
Guess what? My perfectionist natured ruined it for me. I became obsessed with minor details. I would always want to improve my form, record all the progressive overloading I have been doing, stressing over the weights and exercises.
That worked for some time. But soon, I found myself becoming irregular with my workouts.
Because it was too much stress for me. Especially when the lockdown happened, and I desperately needed to start my workouts again myself.
How did I turn this around?
I started with 10min workout sessions, 3–4 times a week. I would do 1 exercise of major body parts — chest, shoulder, bicep, tricep, back, legs, and abs. I would finish as many exercises and reps as I could in these 10-min sessions.
Slowly, I began doing 20-minute sessions, without stressing if I am doing a push/pull workout, or if I am doing more of chest exercises or leg exercises. Although I tried to make sure that all of my body parts are working out.
My goal was to keep my body in movement. I ordered dumbbells, and even now I am working out 2–3 times a week, for 20min sessions like this.
I might not develop a bodybuilder’s body, and I never even wanted to.
But lately, my workout sessions have started becoming my fun activity again. And that has been the number one goal.
As evident from the words above, you can see your internal flaws can easily turn relaxing activities into stress-inducing activities.
Also, if you see, the first step to turning them around is self-awareness.
Become self-aware about all the issues that are causing you stress and anxiety. That would be the starting point.
And it’s alright. Everyone goes through this.
Remember, you’re the captain of your ship. You can turn it around any time you want, right?