What you tell yourself matters.
It is Smith Rocks Oregon in the early spring a few decades ago. I have a project (route I am trying to do without falling). I am prepared. It is time to try to send. Instead of going and trying, I pick a fight with my partner. Later that afternoon, I decide to go just climb on the route. I send.
The pressure of knowing all the conditions were set and it was THE TIME to send, created a narrative in my head that went like this. “You have to do it. Today is THE DAY! Don’t screw up! You can’t fail! And then the little quiet voice that said… “You won’t do it. You aren’t going to do it.” This narrative amped up the sympathetic nervous system and my reaction — to explode. Unfortunately for my partner, he was in the explosion zone. Apologies Nick.
After that day I learned something very essential to my climbing success… take the pressure off by actually verbalizing what you plan. Take control of the narrative. From that moment forward when the day came to try to send I would control the narrative as I put my shoes on, chat with people out loud about my plans for that day and for the future. I empowered myself and released the narrative of impending failure. Most importantly, I was kind to my self. I gave myself the opportunity to fail if it happened.
I then could see all the ways I walk through life trying to be faultless so I will not be attacked by those voices. The ways I attack others and hold them to a very high bar. And I definitely recognized how I communicate unkindly every moment of every day, entrenching it even more deeply in my consciousness. The little voice in my head that tells me I should only have one cup of coffee. That little voice that tells me I should be exercising more, faster, harder. That little voice that tells me I should be a better mother, employee, coach. That little voice that attacks me every day. That same voice that reaffirms the narrative that I deserve punishment.
Self empowerment is just stating what is without blame or threats, without a narrative about how success or failure will impact your worth. What if the second cup of coffee was just a second cup of coffee that I could enjoy? What if I simply enjoyed the feeling of moving and being strong with whatever exercise I partook in without the pressure of perfection, improvement? Life would feel like it was more of a gift for sure.
I was spurred to write this piece because I believe I am not alone. I know I am not alone. As Dr. Edith Eger writes in her book The Gift, it matters what you tell yourself. The “I shoulds” tell you that you are not enough. “I will try” puts off the trying. “I can’t” closes you from possibility. How will I rewrite my narrative? I will actually say out loud, “This is life presenting an opportunity for growth.”