Hi friends. Today was a down day for me. It was just one of those mornings when, no matter how hard you tried to tell yourself to get out of bed, the very task seemed impossible.
I had had a sleepover with my friend, Leyla, the night before. We had a grand time catching up on college life, boys, boys, etc. We watched the Stephen King classic, “The Shining” well into the early hours of 3am. The film, hailed as one of the greatest horror movies ever made, really plays mind games on its spectators. I think I’d have to watch it one more time before truly understanding the plot, let alone the film’s meaning.
I had planned on waking up at 8am to start my day. As usual, though, I ended up hitting the snooze button, and slept in ’til the bright rays 10am infiltrated Leyla’s purple curtains. Leyla graciously gave me a ride home. At home base, I took a shower then headed to my room to plan out my set of daily goals.
- write about my New York trip
- read “Wuthering Heights”
- answer time-sensitive emails/messages
- regain the former focus and discipline I’d practiced as a gymnast
Here’s the thing with me and goals, though. I am both goal-oriented and ambitious. Therefore, I tend to overestimate how much I can squeeze into 24 hours’ time. Oftentimes, I’ll have laid out in front of me 10 different goals to accomplish, without a clue as to where to begin. Ambition is a great quality to have, yes. But ambition alone will not guarantee success. It is ambition, channeled into strategic daily practice, that will bring about progress.
Goal-setting is indeed an art. As much as we like to believe we’re superhuman, the reality is that we all have our limits. It is important in life to know what you don’t know– I had a big talk with my father about this particular life skill, one that many of his physician colleagues seem to lack. But back to my point– you’ve gotta set realistic goals. Attempting to build Rome in a single day is impossible and will of course lead to disappointment. Not only do your goals have to be realistic, they also must be triaged, with the most pressing task placed at top priority, and all succeeding tasks lined up below in order of decreasing urgency. After deciding which goals to tackle and which to leave to tomorrow, you must create a detailed road-map as to how you are going to achieve this goal. It is not enough to say, “Today I am going to write.” Okay… but what are you going to write, and what do you wish to accomplish with that writing? Is your goal to finish chapter one of your next novel? Complete the first draft of your college essay? Point is, the more specific you are with what you need to get done, the greater the likelihood of you getting it done.
Man… that was a HUGE digression about goals. I should’ve just written a whole different blog post about strategies for effective goal-setting, huh… Oh well. Back to my day. So I laid out all these goals, without putting into practice all I had just preached about goal-setting, how-to. I started with the seemingly easiest one– meditate. I rolled down my curtains, closed the door of my room, sat on a chair and listened to a guided morning meditation from YouTube. Diversion– do you guys think guided meditations count as legitimate meditation, or are they just a dumb-downed version of meditation, made easier for laypeople? Anyway, after the 20 minute meditation video concluded, I opened my eyes, only to feel super drowsy. Eventually, I succumbed to the voice in my head and crawled under the covers of my untouched bed sheets. Have I lost all mental willpower to resist tantalizing temptation (in this case, the beckoning of my soft, warm bed)?
I woke up around 1:30pm. With the former bulk of the day gone, I felt ashamed for choosing sleep over productivity. I looked over at my “Goals” whiteboard; all I had accomplished thus far was meditation, which, if I’m being honest with myself, is but an excuse for me to close my eyes and stay a few minutes longer in la la land, before landing back to reality. But time doesn’t stop, and there’s no use in doting on wasted minutes. All you can do is make the most of the remaining day, right?
So I went downstairs and ate Japanese take-out lunch with the fam. As I am on a quest to lose weight– yes, I know I look perfectly healthy and absolutely don’t need to diet; but I am not yet happy with my bodily appearance and henceforth am taking steps to earn my dream figure, though I know that being “skinnier” will change nothing of my inner demons– I told myself to abstain from carbs. But oh my, that Japanese white sticky rice called for me… I needed something to balance out the rich, sweet and sour Teriyaki sauce richly coating the chicken and salmon… I relented, and stuffed my face with rice. Oh fie, fie, fie!!! “For shame, for shame,” cried the voice in my head. I grew weak. And because of that, I had to take measures to NOT eat the rest of the day, to lessen the blow of what I had just done.
Following lunch, my mother graciously drove me to San Jose for dance practice. I had brought “Wuthering Heights” with me, planning to read on the car ride to the studio. In one of my Griseldaish, self-loathing moods, however, I was intent on withdrawing into myself and my unhealthy thoughts. My mother is my greatest confidant; she is the one I turn to when I need help. I didn’t quite know how to express all that pent-up negative emotions I felt in that moment… It started with guilt and shame attached to not being nearly as productive as I wished to be, and giving into my terrible carb cravings. From there, the negative emotions took a life of their own. I’m telling you, guys– when I’m in my depressive states, it doesn’t take much for my emotions to spiral downward.
So, the car ride. I tried to convey to my mother all I felt. The low motivation to dance, though I had already committed to performing at a family friends’s wedding; questioning of my former identity as a disciplined, hardworking, strong-minded, focused individual– I am as far from that person now as I am from New York City; the immense guilt felt from causing my family members so much distress with all my mental health issues. Just… a lot of stuff on my mind, with no feasible way to appease my mental anguish. I mean, I could meditate, yes… but when you are so deep in the vortex, the hope of getting out is so slim, that it is so, so much easier to just succumb to the negativity and wallow in self-pity, than it is to say, “SCREW YOU, VILE VOICE. I WON’T HAVE YOU ANY LONGER. I CHOOSE HAPPINESS, AND BY GOD’S NAME I WILL GET IT.”
I had much I needed to release, in that moment, but my mother is no therapist. I expressed to her how I felt nothing but pressure and frustration with dance, and oftentimes thought of quitting the sport (why, I will get to in a later blog post). She responded angrily, telling me that I could not flake on my promise to dance at the September 23rd wedding. I told her I was never planning on quitting… but it didn’t mean I had to be happy about doing it. The conversation started there and went on to my impulsive tendencies, my inability to stick to commitments, my life being dictated by my untamable emotions.
All of the above are truths about me. I am undoubtedly a passionate and ambitious individual. If something inspires and strikes a chord in me, I will, at once, pour my everything into whatever the object of obsession is at the time. That’s the thing, though– at the time. Lately, I’ve realized that many of my life endeavors, beyond school and gymnastics, have been but mere impulses. Let us take dance, for instance. Earlier in the summer, I was inspired and motivated to dance for the Embassy Ball competition. I went all out into my training, spending entire days locked away in a studio, practicing. Pushing myself to my breaking point, I felt like my old self again– the little girl who’d never talk or complain at gymnastics practice, but just silently and resolutely fight towards improvement. Then, of course, the burnout ensued. It wasn’t but two weeks into my military-dance training, when I grew exhausted and reluctant to keep going. Then, I decided to not do the competition. That competition was the only thing keeping me training as hard as I did, which shows that, maybe, my goals are not aligned in the right place. I dance hard when faced with an external goal, like performing well at a competition, but when the external motivation is taken away, and I’m left with simply the motive to dance to IMPROVE MYSELF… well that just isn’t enough for me, now is it? Note to self– work with therapist on becoming more intrinsically motivated than extrinsically driven.
Again, I digress. Where was I? Oh yes. The dance anecdote illustrates how quickly I can go from 100% to nothing at all. Why can’t I just stay at a steady 50%? Consistently training two productive hours each day, whilst having time to enjoy other aspects of life, beyond the in-the-moment goal.
Consistency is what I lack. Shocking, right? It took me a while to recognize this fault in myself… My pride of being a “former gymnast”, with the mental toughness of steel, hindered me from recognizing that I have since fallen from my former self. What’s that quote they say? “It’s always a lot easier to let something fall apart than it is to try to hold it together.” The shield of armor that was my athletic discipline has slowly melted in the past five years I’ve been out of gymnastics. This realization is a bitter pill to swallow, but a necessary one at that. Dance is not the only instance of me wanting to quit when the going gets tough. What about the day-to-day struggles? Fighting, but ultimately losing the battle, to get out of bed at the sound of the alarm. Knowing I should be taking cold showers, but giving in to the hot water my body yearns for in the moment. Knowing better than to stay up late, surfing the net and doing absolutely nothing constructive, when I should be going to bed early to fix my nocturnal sleep schedule. Canceling dance lessons left and right, with the excuse of being “depressed”. [Side-note– depression is a real mental disorder, and as a person struggling with depression, I’d be the first to point out that the illness makes performing day-to-day tasks ten time harder than it would be under normal conditions. However, I also do not wish to let my depression take total reign over my life. It is so easy to fall into the loop of making excuses for yourself because of your “depression”. I know that when I do this, I am feeding my depression’s power, instead of fighting it. And I hate myself for being weak like that. Side-note, concluded.] What else, what else… eating junk food, when I’ve committed myself to eating a healthier diet. And yes, the competition. Committing to competing at the dance competition, then deciding not to do it, then deciding to do it once more, only to ultimately give up on it. I mean, how much more whimsical, flaky and impulsive can I get?
Obviously, the process of achieving goals entails one to do things one may not necessarily enjoy doing… take me wanting to transfer to Columbia, for instance. Do you think I relish the reappearance of the “Common Application”, which, a year and a half ago, I thought was the last I’d ever see of the monstrosity? Of course not. But, it’s something I need to do if I want to get into Columbia University. So I do it. Likewise, the journey to becoming a great dancer is an arduous one… the art takes years of patient, consistent training to master, and it is difficult for dancers to see concrete, day-to-day improvement. Do I jump at the thought of drilling my rumba walks over and over and over, for several hours? No. I absolutely hate it. The thing is, though, dance is something people do to ENJOY. Unlike school, which for me, is an absolute necessity, dance is something I do as a hobby, for fun. I don’t NEED to dance to make a good living. So, if I’m not enjoying it, why, oh why must I keep going? Especially when the hobby is SO FREAKING EXPENSIVE. There are so many reasons why I should give up… would it be great to become the dancer I aspire to be? Of course. But is the costly battle to get there one worth fighting?
This is the fourth big digression of this post. I apologize, guys. I just have a lot on my chest I must release.
So, here I find myself now. Still ambitious, still passionate, still capable, and still full of aspirations for myself. I am sobered, though, by my inability to stick things out to the end. It’s a real problem. I can’t become successful if I quit at the very moment I run into difficulty.
On paper, one would be surprised that I’d come to the following conclusion about myself. I was a stellar student throughout high school and college thus far; I was successful, in my own right, as a gymnast; I’ve made some not-so-bad achievements in the dance world as well. Of course, it would take a determined person to achieve, right? If you want to be successful, you mustn’t be weak. So how did I achieve all I’ve achieved in life thus far, if I’m now calling myself “whimsical”, “flaky”, “impulsive” and unable to commit long-term to a goal? Here’s my self-analysis. School was always something I had to do. I’ve gotten so good at separating my emotions from what I need to get done academically, that my grades and scholastic achievements are left untouched by the heat of my emotional ups-and-downs. Gymnastics, I started as a child. Back then, I thought little of “achieving” or becoming an “Olympian”; at the start, it was all fun and games. By the time I started training seriously as a gymnast, I had been doing the sport for so long, I just couldn’t see quitting as an option. I had my wonderful mother there to push me through all my rough patches. Just ask anyone how many times I wanted to quit the sport in my younger years, and how many times my mother had to physically force me into the car to get to practice. I look back on it all now, and I’m immensely grateful for my mother for pushing me so hard to stick with it, when I wanted to quit. But you see, already in my youth, did this pattern of “wanting to quit when the going got tough” appear. The difference is, though, when I was young, I couldn’t see myself doing anything other than gymnastics, because it was all I had ever known. So quitting was never a real option. Now, as a young adult, filled with MUCH more experience of life’s diversities, I am presented with so many doors beyond dance. No longer can I rely on my parents, or anyone for that matter, to push me to keep going. I have sole responsibility over what I decide to do in life. No one can make that choice for me, but myself. It’s terrifying, sometimes.
See, I really believe I can be successful at whatever I set my mind to, if only I knew what it was, dammit!
Maybe that is the basis behind my inability to carry out long term goals. I can’t seem to separate momentary impulses of euphoric excitement from genuine, long-lasting passion. I don’t know what I want to do, and because of that, I don’t know if the battles I am fighting are ones I truly want to fight.
And my damnable emotions… I am at the point where I can confidently say, I do not know how to control how I feel. Here is a reflective excerpt I wrote earlier today:
“Emotional regulation. I’ve never been good at managing my over-the-top extreme moods– on top of the world, waking up at 5am for dance practice, training 6 hours each day; or sleeping in till noon, wandering about the house without knowing what the hell to do with my time.
Why, why, why… I just want to be steady. Please God, help me. This isn’t living. Waiting for when the next crash will happen is not living.”
My emotional highs are now tainted with the wariness of being too hopeful, for I know that, with every high, an emotional low will follow, and offset any progress I’d made in my euphoric state. Two steps forward, one step back. Such is the state of my life now, so it seems.
Thank goodness I am seeing a good therapist who will help me with emotional regulation.
Anyway, enough of my ramblings. It’s nearing 11pm– I’ve been at this post for the past 3 hours or so. Time to ride my bike back home and get some rest. No matter what, I will continue hoping that tomorrow will be a better, brighter day.