“You have to pedal harder,” I thought to myself, “that old man is beating you.”
I was at the gym, coming off an injury, and I was comparing my efforts on the recumbent bike to those of the man next to me. Immediately my inner critic kicked in and I began to tell myself that I wasn’t good enough.
Recognizing what was happening, I made a conscious effort to stop myself. I thought about the situation. Who cares if someone twice my age is pedaling faster than me on the bicycle? Was I worried that someone might notice and judge me?
Well, what if it were Lance Armstrong pedaling next to me. Nobody would ever expect me to be as fast as Lance Armstrong! So why did I feel that people expect me to be faster than the man next to me? Who was I trying to please?
Chances are that nobody was even paying attention to me.
This experience really got me thinking about capacity. We each have different capacities – to work, to love, to create, to pedal on bicycles – and especially to do all the work required of a mother.
Here are a few ideas that can help us accept our capacities as mothers and enable ourselves to accomplish great things:
(1) Realize that we can work within our capacities to achieve our goals.
My capacity to create a beautiful centerpiece surrounded by a perfect dinner all while being room mom and being in charge of the school carnival is not the same as my friend down the street. But I can still create a beautiful life within my capacity.
Maybe my capacity only allows me to get dinner on the table (with no centerpiece) and to donate my time to decorate for the school carnival. That’s okay!
I found this idea of capacity very freeing. I no longer felt bound by what people around me were doing as a gauge for whether or not I was performing well. I was suddenly able to measure my efforts according to my capacity, and I was able to acknowledge that I was doing a good job if I was working at capacity – my capacity, not someone else’s.
(2) Make a conscious effort to battle our inner critic.
I think we all battle an inner critic – that demeaning little voice that comes in subtle thoughts. Like a subconscious narrator to our lives, it tells us things like, “A good mother wouldn’t have done it that way,” or, “You’ll never be a very good cook,” or even appeal to our vanity with comments like, “You sure have dark bags under your eyes…and just look at what is going on with the way that shirt tugs in all the wrong places.”
These thoughts can creep into our heads, or fall like a deluge of negativity into our thoughts, words, and ultimately our actions. It takes our constant awareness and conscious effort to stop them before they become overpowering.
(3) Set reasonable goals.
One way to keep negative thoughts about ourselves at bay is to set reasonable, measurable, attainable goals that allow us stretch ourselves. Even small successes can help us to know we are progressing.
Think about the things you love and honestly assess your capacity. Then set a reasonable goal to better yourself in that area. Maybe you’re good at getting dinner on the table every night, but you could work on improving the nutritional value or diversity of your meals.
Think about the things you’re terrible at, and do the same thing. Perhaps you find that you’re struggling to keep the family’s schedules organized. Make a goal to sit down with the family and the calendar once a week in order to be sure things run more smoothly.
As we begin a new year, our thoughts naturally turn to resolutions. This is often accompanied by feelings of guilt and dread, but it doesn’t have to be that way. If we approach our goals while keeping our capacity and current abilities in mind, we can feel that we have truly accomplished something great and bettered ourselves by the end of the year.
I like to limit my goals at the new year to about three goals and one skill to develop. I’ve found that this allows me to stretch myself without overwhelming me (but you should go with whatever works for your capacity).
Goals should be specific and measurable: like write in your journal once a week, read to your children every night, exercise four times a week, or attend a cultural event with your family once a month.
Developing a skill should be more general – something that is your focus for the year – like learning to bake bread, being more grateful, keeping in contact with friends, or cherishing the phase of life you’re in. That way you will have a focus for what to do with your free time.
As we start the new year, remind yourself to work within your capacity, set reasonable goals, and keep your inner critic at bay.
And if you ever meet Lance Armstrong at the gym, go ahead and climb on the bike right beside him, knowing that you are doing a great job because you’re working within your capacity!
QUESTION: What helps you to acknowledge and thrive within your capacity?
CHALLENGE: As you were reading this article, perhaps one of the ideas struck a chord with you. Decide where you need to start (sitting down to identify a few goals, making a conscious effort to battle that inner critic, etc.) and then make that a priority this week.