Sometimes It’s Not Your Fault

Some time ago I heard a story from a woman who was describing her large family and the inevitability of an assortment of disagreements, recriminations and finger-pointing to surface at all family gatherings. At one point they all got sick and tired of dealing with these so they made a group decision to assign one person each day as “Culprit for the Day”. That person would bear the blame for everything that went wrong that day. The “culprit” would rotate randomly through the group so that everyone would have a turn at being the one at fault. So, for example, when the cookies got burned because no one was paying attention or the milk got spilled or the coffee didn’t get made it would be Mary’s fault. “Oh, well”, she’d say, “today is my day so it’s all my fault”. Then on the next day when it was, say, her brother’s Bob’s turn, she could say, “Not my fault today, it’s his fault”. Screen door gets left open and the flies get in? It’s Bob’s day today so it’s his fault. Car dies because someone left the lights on and the battery went dead? Bob’s fault. And so on.

Unfortunately, I don’t remember where I heard it, but if anyone out there reading this knows where it came from, please let me know so I can properly attribute it and thank the source for this great idea. As the holiday season continues to ramp up, this might be something we all should consider. If you don’t have a big family to contend with, maybe it’s something that could be implemented where you work (e.g., who took the last cup of coffee and did not make another pot? Who emptied the copy machine and did not refill it with paper? Etc., etc.)

Bottom line is –  we Americans love the blame game.  We seem to operate under the illusion that finding and punishing the perpetrator will somehow make us feel better about whatever it is that went wrong. We think “whew – now we know who did it so someone can be held accountable!”  We think this will bring us “closure” (whatever that is).  Funny thing, though, this rarely solves the problem. Perhaps we would all do well to stop worrying about who’s at fault and think instead about how we can move forward and avoid falling into the same trap again.

This is relevant to our everyday lives because the person we tend to assign the most blame for all of the problems of the day is usually ourselves. Often we are very forgiving of others, but ruthlessly brutal on ourselves.

I recently read the following in an article titled “Make the Choice to Stop Hesitating” by Ishita in the online magazine “Fear.Less”:

“. . . how often do we trash ourselves [with thoughts like]: “I should have started ________ [fill in the blank] earlier, I’d be much farther by now.” “I can’t believe I said that last night, how ungraceful can someone be?” “Am I really trying this again after it took me so long the first time?And on and on…How quickly we judge and jump to conclusions about the losers and fools we are. “

I would like to add here that we would probably never do this to anyone else and yet we somehow feel it’s OK to do it to ourselves. Ishita goes on to describe an area on tennis courts referred to by the pros as “No Man’s Land”.  Some of you who play tennis may be familiar with this.  It is an area in the center of the court that seems like a good place to be but ends up being an almost impossible spot from which to hit a ball. Beginners like it because it seems safe, but usually the balls just whiz by them unhit and unreachable. Ishita compared this seemingly safe zone to the place in which she realized she was living her life.

“. . .self-disapproval gives us a false sense of safety. Even though thoughts like “I wish I was better” or “I could never do what he does” are unhelpful, they actually do serve a purpose: we use them to protect us, just like No Man’s Land ‘protects’ us. If you doubt yourself long enough, you’ll never take a risk or step out of your comfort zone. Like staying in No Man’s Land keeps you from getting hit in the face but also prevents you from hitting any balls. [What] lulls us into safety may also be destroying us at the same time.”

To combat this downward spiral, Ishita invented a game she now calls “Be Right for a Day”. This is how she describes it:

“For three months, I played a game with myself where I was right about everything – no matter what I did or said or whom I played with – I was right. No questions asked.

Yes, it is brazen and ridiculous, and there were times when it [angered] people around me. I understood this, but too much was at stake for me. It made such a difference to believe in myself and not second guess or doubt, and I saw how bolstered I felt after a few weeks. At times I felt foolish but for the first time in a long time, I felt confident and self-assured.
I now call this exercise ‘Be Right for a Day’ and recommend it to people who want to build confidence. Turns out it that pretending to be right actually shows you that you are right most of the time, which is delightful. I learned that most times I did or said something, it was usually the right thing to do, but I only learned this by diving in . . . Even attempting to step out of No Man’s Land or Be Right for a Day puts the odds in your favor – you’ll be rewarded simply because you’ve made the choice to be brave enough to leave a safe zone.”

This can apply to anything you’ve been thinking about doing but putting off because you fear you’ll do it badly. Like exercise. So often I hear – “I can’t do yoga because I’m not flexible” or “I’m too old to do Pilates”, etc. etc. How about changing that mindset to “Just for today, I can do yoga” or “I can do Pilates and, just for today whatever way I do it will be right!” Then all you need to do is get to a class and chances are you’ll find out that you are right! Stack enough “I am right” days back to back and before you know it – you’re doing it.  And you’re doing it right – whatever that means for you today.

You can do it – and you will be right! Let someone else be the one to blame for this day.

Need More Reasons to Exercise?

There have been several recent studies linking physical exercise to reduced risk for Alzheimer’s Disease.  For this week’s tip, here are links to just a few articles which give summaries of these studies.

NY Times – Daily Activity Linked toLower Alzheimer’s Risk

USAToday – Any Kind of Physical Activity Lowers Alzheimer’s Risk

Senior Fitness: Muscle Strength May Stave Off Alzheimer’s And Other Health Issues

Regular Exercise and Resistance Training Are Good for the Brain

Being Physically Active May Protect the Brain from Alzheimer’s Disease

Notice that it is overall physical activity that is beneficial.  Certain activities, such as strength training, seem to have specific benefits, but in general just moving is the best thing you can do to prevent mental decline.

How often have you heard someone say, “Now that I’ve hit _____ (age – fill in the blank) everything seems to be falling apart!”  In my opinion, maintaining muscle tone and movement with as much of your body as possible is the most important thing you can do to stave off that “falling apart” feeling.  It’s not inevitable and you don’t have to give in to it.  I see many elderly people every day who are managing to move pretty well regardless of their age.  Granted, some of it is good genes, but I am still a firm believer that there is a level of movement that is possible and appropriate for almost every body.  And it is never too late to start.  Or to improve.  As I always say, starting is the hard part.  Once you start there is no way to go but forward.   My mantra is this:  move while you can move because you never know when something might change to prevent you from moving the way you would like.

You don’t need any particular skill or ability, but you do need patience.  When you start, take baby steps.  It may have been some time since you’ve done any moving at all.   Perhaps you are recovering from an illness or injury.  Or maybe you’re trying to overcome the debilitating effects of a chronic condition.  As you get older, it takes more time to recover.  You may not ever get back to the way you were before you stopped.  But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying.  If you can move at all, then there is a level from which you can begin and a goal that you can reach.  Just be gentle with yourself and accept where you are at right now.  You may need to actively repeat that acceptance process each day.  And some days will be better than others.  Accept that, too.  After all, fighting it won’t make it better.  It can be frustrating, but if you keep trying, you will improve.

And when you have a good day, celebrate!  Pat yourself on the back.  Give yourself a reward.  Mark the day on your calendar so next time you’re feeling down you can remember your accomplishments.

Just as a reminder:  both Yoga and Pilates focus on strength and flexibility training as well as mindful movement.  So either of these disciplines can be a great way to add more movement to your life.