Not having enough

When I ran cross-country, in high school, I’d invariably have so much energy at the end that I’d sprint the last half mile.  Or do a cartwheel or two towards the finish line.  My coach, understandably, was not enormously fond of this behavior, and urged me to run faster earlier on because I obviously could.  I never did.  I was scared that I would be too tired at the end.

In yoga, I often drop out of poses a few breaths before the teacher says to.  I’m usually hurting by then, my body giving up the “alert! alert! alert!” flare, but I’m never at the point of actual failure.  For example, I’ve never held a back bend for a full ten breaths.  I have never not rested during some extra-long downward dogs.  I have never stayed in warrior two for a long hold, totally still.  It’s not exactly that I give up when things get hard.  It’s a little more nuanced, and less impressive than that: I give up before they are really hard, in anticipation of not being able to do it.

The personality trait evinced by these examples has been on my mind lately.  And it’s not a good one.  It’s as though I’m preemptively worried about not having enough – energy, strength, speed.  Even when the data suggests otherwise, I’m too afraid.  What, though, am I actually afraid of?  Am I scared of “success,” of running fast, of holding a pose longer than I thought I could?  What would happen if I did?

And, I worry, in how many non-physical ways does this tendency manifest?  I’m certain there are dozens of places – emotional, spiritual, intellectual – where I am similarly afraid to really go there.  How to break through this mild, sometimes invisible withholding?  What is it about?

I don’t have answers, but I have lots of questions, today centering around this aspect of myself that I am not proud of.  I should just try holding the damned backbend for ten breaths.  But for some reason that fills me with fear.  Why?


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13 Comments

  1. Posted April 21, 2011 at 4:20 am | Permalink

    “I give up before they are really hard, in anticipation of not being able to do it.”

    I could say ditto to this entire post. I struggle with the EXACT same tendency, and I definitely have seen its impact in those non-physical areas. Big time. No easy answers on this one.
    But I will say, as I’ve begun (in the last several years) to see my hedging as a flaw and not a successful strategy for failure avoidance–as I’ve become more self aware–I’ve allowed less of it in my life. Naming it helps. So does having someone in your life who calls you on it in one breath and then inspires you to be better in the next. For me, that’s my husband. He knows me too well, and I rarely get away with the fear-of-failure motivated behavior anymore.

  2. Posted April 21, 2011 at 5:39 am | Permalink

    The questions are a great place to start. We can’t change anything until we are aware of it. And the yoga poses ought to be a safe place to practice. Whether you succeed or let go of the control of short-circuiting failure, you will be ahead.

    I have a similar thing with change. It does something deep and visceral to me and I resist it with all my might in certain areas. Sometimes even areas where I’ve been agitating for something to change. As long as something or someone is preventing the change, I can rail all day long, but when I’m presented with making the decision to actually MAKE the change, I balk. In a big way. I’m working on it. And recognition is the first step.

    Breathing right there with you….

  3. Posted April 21, 2011 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    I do the same thing, although I am quite certain that the reason for mine is fear of failure rather than fear of success. Failure is NOT easy for me. I had a psych professor in college explain that perfectionists are quite often master procrastinators and quitters, which seems a bit counter-intuitive but really makes perfect sense. If you don’t study for the test until the last minute (or not at all) and then do poorly, you’re not really failing at the desired skill set–you *could* have aced it if you’d studied. If you quit the game/race/whatever before the final outcome is determined, you can still tell yourself that you probably could have won if you’d given it 100%. For me, it’s a means of self-preservation against failure. Is it possible it’s something along those lines?

    admin Reply:

    yes, for sure – better to have not tried than tried and failed … I so relate to this tendency. I’m not proud of it though! xoxo

  4. Posted April 21, 2011 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    Reminds me of the Marianne Williamson quote, “Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our greatest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”

    admin Reply:

    As I hit publish I had that quote in my head, and I wondered if someone would think of it … I agree, yes, yes, yes.
    But why am I scared of being strong, of success? xoxo

  5. Posted April 21, 2011 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    Mhm. It appears you are soooo not alone. This is me as well.

    My strategy lately has been to feel the feeling I’m backing away from when I back out of the backbend. Not uber enticing, but far more frightening in contemplation than reality.

    I go to that fear place, “I won’t be able to hold the back bend.” I feel the fear, watching it…watching it. The fears gets bigger and bigger and then…poof! It’s gone.

    This is a magic trick for me! I’m terrified of feelings, but then feeling them turns out to be, um, no biggie.

    So, I certainly don’t force myself into backbends. Frankly, I avoid those whenever I can. But I try to chase down one or two of those “avoid me” feelings a week.

    I find, as I pop these bubbles of terrifying feelings they seem to be losing their horror. Maybe the backbend will come in their place. Maybe not. I don’t really care too much. I rarely walk around in backbend position, so it’s OK. I’ll still be able to get the dishes done.

    And, I suppose all of this really tracks back to “I’m enough/ not enough,” right? I’m workin’ on that one too.

  6. Hilary Levey Friedman
    Posted April 21, 2011 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    Do you feel this way when it doesn’t involve physical exertion? I’m the same way with physical things– why make myself feel pain when I push through enough emotional and psychic minefields every day? It doesn’t seem like you are this way professionally or with writing.

  7. Posted April 21, 2011 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    Such beautiful questions to be living in the midst of. As someone with an advanced degree in psychology, I hesitate to say this but I don’t think the “why” matters. The answers, even if they come, might have little impact. I say this because I have similar tendencies and am finding that breathing into the questions and trusting my deepest knowing, the one under the machinations of my mind, has brought more transformation than anything else. When you are ready, those ten breaths will come.

  8. Posted April 21, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    I think (for me anyway) the scary part is that I will not be the best, the strongest, the fastest, the smartest – so if I don’t try to be, I won’t have to deal with that realization. It’s hard for a perfectionist.

  9. Jen
    Posted April 21, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    I can really relate to what you wrote, and had a thought. (Not sure if you were actually answering for answers or thoughts, but I’ll share just in case you were!) The thought of succeeding fills me with fear as well. I think it’s because I worry that if I succeed, I won’t have anything to work towards. I worry that climbing the mountain, however hard, fills you with hope–of reaching the top. Something to keep you moving. A reason to keep climbing. But I fear that the top won’t be enough. Once I’m there, what else do I have to work toward? Just the climb down. Or the fall down. It’s hard to imagine that maybe, I can stay at the top. Or maybe, if I fall a little, it’ll be okay. It seems safer to just keep climbing in anticipation of that glory, rather than reach the peak and have nothing more to work towards.

    I don’t know if that resonates with you at all, but it definitely made ME think–so, thank you!

  10. Posted April 21, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    Oh my. This has been SO on my mind lately. I am ALWAYS afraid of not having enough. I want more before I am even finished.

    I think you should just be gentle with yourself. I think you are afraid because you ask too much of yourself. Start holding the backbend for 3 breaths and see what happens.

    xoxo

  11. Posted April 21, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    In this we are a little different, though ultimately I think the same. I tend to be the type that runs headlong into something without first thinking it through, which usually leads to failure. Either way, I think there is something to be said for trying, and pushing our limits, no matter how hard it is.

  12. Posted April 21, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    Interesting. I saw a documentary last night called “Race To Nowhere” about our kids and schools and the pressures of not being good enough. One of the kids said something about how if you don’t try, you can’t fail.

    OTOH, I totally do this with food and money which isn’t about failure. I always gather snacks if I’m going somewhere, and order a bigger size because I’m afraid of running out. I get scared of not having cash, so I use a credit card to “save” my cash. Neither of which seem like healthy habits!

    This post has me thinking- if it’s not a fear of failure (though that certainly is part of it!) what is it? Why are we afraid of what happens when everything runs out? What would happen if you did run out of breath/stamina/energy? You’d collapse or stop, which is what you do anyways. Is that when we discover who we really are and how tough we are? I’m not sure I want to know. 🙂

    Sorry for the rambling, but I like this post!

  13. Posted April 21, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    Story of my life, this fear that stops you in your tracks.

    The Marianne Williamson quote came to mind immediately, but I think there is fear of success and fear of failure. Just fear. We are so steeped iit, culturally. We want the best for our children (and for ourselves) but we put up literal and physical safety gates. Everywhere.

    I think it is something to be aware of, yes, but also something to make friends with, too. To say to oneself, the way you might a child, “you can do it, you’ve got this, I’m right here with you”. To know that whether you do it or not, you are good. And fine, and all of that. To know that, in the end, it’s not the length of time you hold the pose, but that you tried.

    So much of it is just the seeing, the knowing, the intention…