When was the last time you focused on what’s going right, what you’ve already done, and what’s impressive about you? In other words, when was the last time you celebrated yourself, your achievements, and your life? That’s the question the Gentle Creative newsletter asked recently.
The author must have had me in mind when she wrote the article. Despite my best attempts, I tend to focus on what’s not going right, what I could do better, and what is wrong. Though I’m doing plenty, there’s always more I could or should be doing. Why is that?
People don’t celebrate their achievements for various reasons, such as
not slowing down but quickly moving on to the next accomplishment
setting such a high bar that no matter how great the achievement, it’s never enough
focusing on small things that didn’t go perfectly and ignoring things that did
taking their eyes off the bigger goal and becoming distracted
being taught that recognizing successes is arrogant or bragging
only celebrating big life-altering plans and disregarding the smaller wins
Several of those reasons apply. I don’t want to slow down. I’m 83 years old and worry about not accomplishing everything on my bucket list. I focus on the small things that don’t go well rather than the small wins, and my parents taught me to be modest. Three other culprits that get in the way of celebrating my achievements are my inner critic, expectations, and feelings of inadequacy.
The inner critic is an internal voice that judges and criticizes. An active inner critic can take a toll on one’s emotional well-being and self-esteem. It plays a significant role in shaping one’s identity and sense of self - a nagging voice that questions every decision and undermines each accomplishment. This inner critic can leave a person with feelings of shame, inadequacy, or guilt. My inner critic has been around for a long time and never shuts her mouth. She says things like
I am working on replacing her with an inner coach, a personal cheerleader that helps me recognize when my worries are talking. Gulliver and Emmet from Sesame Street explain the role of the inner coach.
Expectations, more than anything else in life, determine reality. When it comes to achieving goals, if you don’t believe you’ll succeed, you probably won’t.
Research from LSU (Louisiana State University) shows that people who believe in themselves use more of their brains and have more brainpower to solve problems.
Before people can adjust their expectations, it's essential to recognize them and determine whether they are realistic. If you find yours aren't true - no worries. Identifying them is a great place to start.
Aging adults may have unrealistic expectations about what they can do and may need to revise them.
Feelings of inadequacy
A person’s inner critic and unrealistic expectations can lead to feelings of inadequacy.
I’m a loser. I’m not good enough. I can’t do that. I don’t deserve to be happy. These feelings of inadequacy occur more frequently than one might think. As much as 85% of people suffer from low self-esteem and imposter syndrome. Doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud are signs that you may be in the same boat.
These are a few well-known causes of inadequacy:
Unhelpful comparisons with other people. Teddy Roosevelt said: “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
A habit of self-criticism.
Early life experiences and trauma.
However, the BetterHelp website reminds
The most important thing to remember when you are figuring out how to cope with feeling inadequate is that you are in control of your narrative. No matter what you have been through in the past, you are the writer of your own story.
Things that impacted you in the past have no hold over you now. Once you understand why you felt inadequate, you can work toward dealing with those root causes and building yourself up from there.
Take time to consider the underlying reasons behind your feelings of insecurity, remembering that you are ultimately in control of how you feel and perceive yourself. Use this as the launching pad toward becoming the confident person that you are looking to be
What does this have to do with aging well? As people age, they experience losses, aches and pains, chronic disease, changing friendships, absent family members, and retirement. These losses can lead to feelings of inadequacy as well. There may be less chance for celebration, and the celebrations may be about minor events. So, it seems wise to have a reserve of achievements in mind and to find current ones to dwell on - even small ones.
The good news is that I can make choices to help me celebrate my achievements - two of those choices are acceptance and forgiveness.
The first choice is to accept what I can and can’t now do - what I think of as my new normal. I may not be able to run 10K races, but I can walk/run a 5 K one. How can I be okay with that - it’s a choice? My favorite definition is that
Acceptance doesn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, mean passive resignation. Quite the opposite. It takes a huge amount of fortitude and motivation to accept what is — especially when you don’t like it — and then work wisely and effectively as best you possibly can with the circumstances you find yourself in and with the resources at your disposal, both inner and outer, to mitigate, heal, redirect, and change what can be changed.
The second choice is to forgive me for what I didn’t do, couldn’t do, or didn’t know how to do. The list is a mile long. Self-forgiveness enables me to separate who I am from my mistakes. Maybe I can begin to learn from my choices and find ways to make amends when possible.
They say it is easier to forgive others when you start forgiving yourself.
Maybe if I accept what I am now able to do and forgive myself for not being a superstar, then the inner critic will shut up. I will have more realistic expectations and the feelings of inadequacy will subside.
I can celebrate three recent achievements:
the writing of the 70th article for the Aging Well News newsletter
cutting my sugar consumption in half
walking a couple of miles most days
I bet you have achievements as well. Are you willing to share?
As promised, here are three of my favorite articles this week:
What is “The Stress Curve"? Information on how to manage stress more effectively.
Pardon my Elastic Mood. A reminder of how I can be “textbook dramatic.”
Huge Steps Backward in Hospital Quality and Price for Medicare Patients. My husband’s hospital stay for emergency surgery was the end of life, as he knew it. His body healed, but his memory never did. Awareness is key - they allow a person to make informed decisions.
So starting now, let’s find ways to celebrate our achievements. We have earned it.
Hi Janice. Thank you so much for referencing my last newsletter. And I love your take on the subject. I'm struggling with fatigue at the moment and have finally managed to stop worrying as much and accept where I am. Like you, I'm focussing on what I can do each day. Yesterday, I did a 20 minute yoga class, I went to the grocery store, cooked a roast dinner and spent an hour drafting this week's article. When I look at my day like that, rather than lamenting what I can't do, I think it looks pretty good. I love the idea of an inner coach rather than an inner critic. I'm in my 50s and I hope that when I reach my 80s I'll be doing as much as you are. Keep going, keep celebrating xx