Looking back at things, we often get the feeling that we could have done better, but is that really true?
After finishing high school, I was beating myself up for not getting better grades in my final exams. Years later, I was a candidate on the German version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” I won some money, but it could have been more and I kept telling that to myself almost every night before I went to bed. When I was teaching yoga for 10 years, I consistently viewed myself as a failure because I didn’t have as many people in my classes as other teachers did.
Could I have done better?
Today, I think the answer is no. Let’s be honest—if I could have done better, I would have done better.
What if we could realize that we are always doing our best? We might not always succeed in what we are doing, but, most probably, we tried to the best of our abilities. This is the key to stop beating ourselves up on a regular basis. Let’s try to flip the narrative about our attempts of achieving something.
Of course, we often realize that we didn’t have a good day. We tend to think that things would have worked out better if we were at our best. What does being at our best even mean? Every day in our lives is different. We are human beings and that is a beautiful thing.
Sometimes we wake up and feel past trauma as if was happening in that moment. Other times, we might start the day with a feeling of being invincible.
Interacting with others has the potential to lift us up, but can also drag us down. The same goes for our impact on people around us. Sometimes we bring the spark into someone’s life and other times we are a pain in others’ necks. But I am sure nobody wakes up in the morning thinking, “Today I am going to be the worst human being of all times.”
We might fail to be kind to others when we are in pain. In most cases, our negative impact on others has nothing to do with them. It is our own being who is struggling and snapping at others is just an outcry for help.
Why do we keep beating ourselves up for things that we did not achieve? If we could have, we would have.
What if we could look at ourselves as we look at close friends or family members? We know that they are not perfect, but we love them. What if we could be just as forgiving toward ourselves as we are when it comes to our loved ones?
When we see the child of a friend epically failing on eating spaghetti without ruining their clothes, we know that the kid didn’t know any better. Most probably, we will get a good laugh out of it.
Well, how was I supposed to know where the Aleutian Islands are when I was on that game show? My mom was right in reminding me of the fact that she had been there for a holiday and told me about it. The moment she said it, it came back to my mind—but in front of six million people on TV, things were different.
Sometimes we make a mistake and know that we had the skills and knowledge to avoid failing. But we are human beings and that creates this beautiful uncertainty that we call life. Things are not predictable. We are not machines. Underneath the surface of our being there are layers of unknown thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
Taking all of this into consideration might bring up the question of what to do instead.
Here are three ways to deal with setbacks in life:
Accept who we are. We are the sum of our past experiences in life and heavily influenced by our social environment. If we grew up with parents who don’t care about music, we might not be as talented as the kid from the professional drummer next door. If we are a toddler, nobody expects us to eat spaghetti without smearing tomato sauce all over our shirt.
Understand what went wrong. It is one thing to realize why something went wrong and another thing to be able to see what went wrong. Only when we can identify the source of our struggle, we can make the difference next time. There is a huge difference between saying “All of a sudden everything fell apart” and “That was the point when things started getting out of hand.” Was it a lack of skills that created the situation or were we just nervous? Do we need to work harder or just try to find ways to manage our emotions?
Try again. Once we accept our weaknesses, we can give it another go. Just because we can’t get into that challenging yoga pose today does not mean that this will be the case two years from now. Every success is based on trying again—this is the only way to improve. When I went to school the first day, I wasn’t able to read, but over time I got much better at that.
Nobody expects us to be perfect, so why would we do that to ourselves? All we can do is try our best every day. Two steps forward and one step back—that’s life. Every failure teaches us something for the next time—as long as we keep trying.
As I always tell people coming to my yoga classes: “It is not about how far we can get into a pose; it is about the direction we are moving in.”
Let’s keep moving—and keep in mind that that’s all we can do.