I don’t claim to be an expert in mental health by any means. All I can give you is my perspective on the things that have affected me over the years and hope it helps you in some way.
These last couple of months have been… challenging. For reasons I’m not yet prepared to go into.
But it has made me think about what I’ve learned over the years from doing martial arts and from writing, and from all the other things I’ve done through my life.
I was raised on the old mindset of ‘being perfect/excellent at something the first time you try equates to being valuable/lovable.’ It comes from when parents praise kids for their birth-traits (beauty, speed, strength, intelligence etc) rather than their learned traits (determination, focus, hard work, willingness to fail and learn). Or parents who constantly criticise their kids for NOT being perfect the first time.
So my self-worth came from being good at things the first time. Which creates a nasty self-esteem loop. If you’re not good at something the first time, then you’re a failure as a person and not lovable.
(NOTE: I recommend a book called ‘Mindset’ by Dr Carol S Dweck to understand how this affects you and your kids)
But, because I have a genius-level older brother to compare myself to, I also had to work my arse off to BE good at anything the first time. And that habit of working hard and learning builds over time and becomes habit, making the next skill you try easier because you’ve already learned to control your body, or your mind. I just didn’t realise that’s what I was doing, until much later in life.
In the dojo, we get a LOT of people who start and think they will be instinctively brilliant at martial arts. And sometimes they are – to a point. But there is ALWAYS a moment (in any skill) where you hit a wall. Where your natural gifts are no longer enough for things to come easily. Where you actually have to fail, learn, and work to get better; to improve.
That’s the point where most people raised in the wrong mindset give up. And all the excuses come out.
They’re tired. Martial arts hurts. They have to work late. The traffic was too heavy and they couldn’t get to class. Someone in the dojo wasn’t nice to them. Someone in the dojo told them what to do and they didn’t want to hear it.
You hear them all.
But really, it boils down to insecurity. A fear that you weren’t good enough the first time you tried, therefore you’re inherently flawed and will never be good enough.
Which leads to anxiety. What do people think of me?
If we could take anxiety about what other people think away from humans, the world would be a vastly better place.
There would be no need for the dominance games that go with tribal/troupe living. No need for the constant belitting of others in an attempt to make yourself feel better. None of the nagging twist in the guts, the whisper in your ear, the checking to see how others are responding.
Writing is no different. You write and put your work out there. If you’re smart, you’ll do some learning and test the waters with beta readers before you publish, but many people don’t. And in this age of self-publishing, it means you can get some nasty trolling from people who are horribly insecure and desperate to pull others down.
What people say about you is a mirror of their own insecurities and fears.
This is where mindset makes a huge difference. Every time you fuck up (or someone says you have), it’s an opportunity to learn, to accept that you’re not perfect – AND to accept that it’s OK to not be perfect. You’ll never please everyone. Nor should you try.
Getting back up again off the dojo mat. That’s where the toughness comes in. Coming back to the dojo after you’re bruised, exhausted, in tears, and feeling like you’ll never get it right. That’s where the mindset comes in.
It’s really easy to hide at home and try to avoid the trolls, the negativity, the potential of failure.
But every time you get out of the house; get back up off the mat; go to a workshop to learn how to be a better writer; put pen back to paper again in spite of criticism… that’s where mental toughness and health is.
And it builds. It gets easier.
Your brain knows you can get up again, because you’ve done it before. The neural pathways exist now. And the more you use those pathways – by getting up, ignoring the trolls, writing anyway, learning more – the easier those pathways become to tread.
Until the pathways of mental toughness become wider and stronger than the ones of anxiety and fear.
Anything worth doing will only come with failure and learning. You just have to choose the right path each time to get to the destination you really want.
But it takes time. And effort.
And which path to take is a decision. Your decision.
Not an easy one every time. Believe, I know.
And it's ok to ask for help, too.
I live in Australia - which tells you I have a sense of humour. We're a self-deprecating people, we Aussies. My aim is to, one day, vanish in a blinding flash of enlightenment. In the mean time, I'm doing my best to learn as many