Last night, the Girl Child had some great lifts and I was so happy for her! New PRs on everything with more in the tank on a random maxout day. She’s been showing up for training and putting in the effort and it shows. This also means she now lifts heavier than I do and I felt inadequate. We say things out loud in the barn and so I confessed this awkward feeling. What do you do with an awkward feeling?
Feelings are complicated, squishy things. There is a “fast” system in the brain, powered by dopamine levels, that helps us predict outcomes and generates feelings. There is a “slow” system in which we think and rationalize. These systems appear to be connected in a small area just behind the eyes, so there is a feedback loop. Classical cognitive theory says thoughts generate feelings and by examining and correcting distorted thoughts we can re-align our feelings. Meditation teaches us it really doesn’t matter because nothing is forever, let it go.
My coach said something to the effect of “don’t feel that, it’s a wrong feeling.” Feeling inadequate in the face of someone else’s achievement does sound twisted and we had stuff to do, so the correct thing is set the feeling aside and sit with it later. By the time I was ready to sit with it, the feeling was nowhere to be found. Meditation and mindfulness +1. Then the Girl Child did it again. This time, prepared to watch for underlying thoughts, I learned the thoughts driving the feeling were something like this “I really need to be ‘better than’.” Cognitive theory +1. Returning to meditation, where the heck was this coming from? Why is this comparison killing me? Time to go sit.
The message I received when I was young, whether intended or not, was “I was so talented, if I wasn’t out-performing my peers, I was not meeting expectations and unacceptable,” which morphed into straight up “If I couldn’t out-perform my peers, I wasn’t enough.” I should be beating everyone. This is fucked up. The good news, this passes and within minutes as mindfulness practices predict because I no longer ruminate on my perceived inadequacy. However, it would be nice if I could let go of this now-ancient conditioning.
Trying to outperform the Girl Child would be counterproductive, reinforcing the maladaptive belief “performance can earn worth.” This belief has led me to strive in unhealthy ways by taking on more projects, increasing effort, or even walking away from something I love. Not today. With practice, time, and awareness the thoughts driving this feeling of never-enough will fade.