“A mistake repeated more than once is a decision” – Paulo Coelho
“The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.” – Richard Rohr
When you live long enough you start to lose some of the hard edge that once defined you. That sarcasm you voice to others was nothing like the self-talk you once gave yourself. Quite simply, you stop worrying about the chase for perfection and start living with who you are.
The Coelho quote above once tortured me for the patterns of decisions I’d made over time that didn’t help me. Eating the wrong food, opting out of exercise, not making the call you know you needed to make, not following through when you should have, and then not following through the next time either. Decisions made, not mistakes. This quote can eat you alive if you let it.
And then I stumbled upon the Rohr quote, and recognized the incremental improvement in myself over time. When things aren’t going well in some area that self-talk amplifies the worst traits, making it more of who you are. Once you’ve recognized and completely own past decisions, what do you do with them now?
You work to reduce their impact in your life. You get better each day at the things you once avoided. Slowly, surely, you incrementally grow better and the bad shrinks to memories of the way you once were. Still a part of you, always, but not who you are.
Freud would rightly point to the Id, Ego and Superego at this point in the game. As you get a couple of years older you recognize each for what they are inside you. When you’re young and wild you run with one voice (Id) and just eat the chips with abandon. A bit later another voice (Ego) will start pointing towards the weight loss goals on your list and tell you to stop eating those chips. The Superego makes you feel guilty for eating the chips or proud for not eating them and working out. (This moment of pop-psychology brought to you by Pringles).
Today, I’m just trying to be a bit better than I was yesterday so that tomorrow I’m proud of the progress made. It’s not that the Superego cuts me more slack, more that I choose not to wallow in self-criticism. The best way to diminish that critical voice is to show it progress towards the person you’re trying to become. Because that identity you’re aiming for is impressive. And even if you don’t reach it, “close enough” is still pretty good.
Ask yourself why the so-called goals are set in the first place. Think more broadly about the repercussions. Don’t work out because you’ll feel guilty if for the simple fact of not doing it today, but consider the decision a missed investment for achieving a broader goal of extending your healthy life. Chastise yourself for getting another puppy that poops all over and tears up the house, only to repeat that comfort-of-home, pet-feeling, stage of life. Not repeating a mistake per se, but what about that next-stage world travel adventure dream (which a needy pet certainly makes more complicated)? Life is too short for limited horizons.