From a Recovering Perfectionist: 5 Ways to Bounce Back from a Bad Day

Beating Yourself Up

Photo Credit: Shao-Chun Wang

Last week, I had a tang soo do class that, let’s just say, wasn’t my best. Far from it. I stunk up the dojang, and it wasn’t only because of my body odor.

We were doing kicking drills — great, I love kicking! Love wasn’t enough to get me by, however. My techniques were poor, my executions were off, and I was overthinking simple concepts. My lack of togetherness ultimately affected my training partner’s experience, too, which made me feel bad.

When I left the school for the night, I felt embarrassed. As I sat in the car, my mind immediately flooded with a myriad of negative thoughts: What the hell was I doing tonight? Do I even deserve to wear such a high-level belt after this horrible display? I’m letting my classmates, my instructor, and myself down!

Fortunately, those feelings were fleeting, and I allowed myself to get back to center. Sure, I felt embarrassed for putting on such a sloppy show in front of people I respect, but I wasn’t going to allow myself to be defeated.

Now, here’s the thing: I am a recovering perfectionist with occasional lapses, so the very fact that I am offering advice on overcoming a bad day/shift/class/what-have-you may be considered borderline hypocritical to those who know me best.

However, in my ongoing quest to give myself a break I have learned a thing or two about bouncing back from less-than-ideal situations. Okay, to be more specific, it’s actually five things:

It’s Okay to Wallow…for a Moment

Marge Simpson once gave this terrible advice to her daughter Lisa: “Take all your bad feelings and push them down, all the way down past your knees, until you’re almost walking on them.” Fortunately, Marge realized the error of her ways and retracted that statement, telling Lisa that it’s okay to be true to her feelings, regardless of whether or not they’re good.

If you’re disappointed in your effort or actions, don’t deny yourself the opportunity to feel that. You’re allowed to be sad, angry, annoyed, cheesed off, on the verge of listening to every single volume of “The Emo Diaries,” whatever is going through your head.

However, you have to put a lid on it quickly, or else those ill feelings will snowball, gradually engulfing you in a giant orb of helplessness. You’ll go from thinking, I can’t do [this one thing you messed up] right! to, I can’t do anything right! That’s just crazy talk.

Allow yourself time to brood and get those thoughts out of your head, and then shift gears. The longer you carry the burden of your mistakes, the more mistakes you’ll actually make, thus perpetuating a vicious cycle that’s difficult to stop after a certain point.

As I sat in the car, lamenting my lackluster martial arts skills, I decided that I exhausted all of my negativity credits for the night. If I had continued to let those bad feelings fester, it’d turn into something worse, and my enjoyment of tang soo do (and later, other activities) would greatly suffer for it.

Treat It as a Lesson

So you done goofed. What’s next? You can replay the moment in your head over and over, as if you’re watching it Ludovico style.

Or, you can learn something from it.

Life is a series of lessons. I think a fortune cookie told me that once, along with five lucky lottery numbers and how to say “alarm clock” in Mandarin. You’re learning new things all of the time, even if it’s something as banal as which movies are opening at the cinema this weekend. You don’t need to be in a classroom to receive an education. You just have to live and be aware of situations around you.

Once you’re in a better headspace (you’re no longer wallowing), step back and analyze that moment where you faltered. Consider what you could have done differently, and think of ways in which you can improve so you can prevent such a situation from happening again in the future. As soon as you have that figured out, be proactive in taking the steps you need to better yourself.

I’m not proud to admit it, but prior to this bad class of mine, I had not been doing a great job of keeping up with my tang soo do. On top of missing classes, I was also skimping on practicing during my free time. Sadly, my time away from the dojang plus my lack of personal training manifested as a messy display of awkward kicks, disgusted grunts, and wrinkled brows.

So what’s the lesson I learned? If I want to stay sharp as a martial artist, I need to make sure I’m taking the time to practice, even if I can’t make it to a proper class. It’s the only way I’ll ever improve.

Recall Times When You’ve Bounced Back

Good news: This is not the first time you’ve had a fail! moment, and you got by that just fine.

Bad news: It won’t be the last time you have a fail! moment. Nope. Not by a longshot.

Humans are resilient sonsofbitches. Seriously. Think of the stories you may find on a site such as Upworthy — there are more than enough feel-good tales about people who have made like a majestic phoenix and risen above rock bottom. That’s good news for you!

You’ve failed before. You will fail in the future. In between your past mishaps, you’ve succeeded in so many ways. Again, once you’re in a good headspace, think back to a couple of moments when you erred in your ways, and then followed up with your best effort. It’s important to not dwell so much on the previous mistakes, but rather, how you responded in light of them. Let it serve as proof that you are a capable, awesome person. If you persevered before, you sure as hell can now.

At just about every belt rank, I’ve had at least one thing I was called out on during class that I was told I could improve. I remember times when I had trouble with relatively simple things, such as creating a proper fist, throwing out a proper side kick, or even performing a single pushup. Instead of wilting at the sound of criticism, I took mental notes and made sure to especially focus on those areas during my training so I could get better.

I’m pleased to report that I can now create a proper fist, do a solid round of pushups without dying, and execute an okay side kick. (That is something I’m still honing, but it’s much better than it was.) In this most recent class, I had a lot of trouble with jumping-style kicks. They’re not my favorite kicks to do, but I want to improve on them because I want to become a well-rounded martial artist. I may never be perfect at them (or maybe I will be?), but I’ll never know unless I practice.

Remember: You’re Your Own Worst Critic

In the words of Lit, “It’s no surprise to me I am my own worst enemy, ’cause every now and then I kick the living shit out of me.”

Despite what your feelings may be on this brand of early-2000s pop-punk, many human beings can relate to that line. Who knows why people tend to beat themselves down so much? Is it because they feel the need to please everyone at all times? Or do they want to take away opportunities for others to lay on the criticism? Whatever the case may be, it’s common, but it’s not healthy.

It’s one thing to keep yourself in check and prevent the growth of a Kanye-sized ego. However, if you tip the scales too far in the other direction, you’ll never give yourself any credit, even when you succeed. As a result, you’ll begin to think others share the same negative opinion of yourself as you do, silently judging you with every little mistake you make. In reality, your family, friends, partner, teacher, co-workers, and anyone else who plays a significant role in your life are cutting you the slack you refuse to allot for yourself, and barring a major catastrophe, they’re not assigning the same lofty weight to your mistake as you are.

During the kicking drill, my master instructor noticed my struggles with jump kicks. For whatever reason, it took a while for some of his explanations to click. (I can pick up most things quickly, even if I’m not technically perfect at first.) This was obviously frustrating me. Not only was I failing to apply what had been shown to me several times, I was worried about looking like a fool in front of the teacher and everyone else around me. Plus, I was hindering my fellow classmate’s progress because of the extra time I needed to fix my issues, and I feared I was coming off as a weak partner to her.

After removing myself from the situation, I realized that my instructor and my partner were only trying to help me conquer the barrage of bugaboos I was experiencing. I’m sure they would have liked for me to pick up the pace (and trust me, I also would have), but these are people I know, trust, and respect. They didn’t judge. They coached and encouraged me, providing me with critiques along the way. As for everyone else? I’m sure the other teams were too focused on conducting their drills to really pay attention to how I was faring.

Know That It’s Okay to Suck

I’d like to apologize to the Internet, but nobody is flawless, not even Beyoncé. She might get her hair caught in a fan or fall down a flight of stairs whilst performing. What makes Beyoncé seem so crazysexycool to people is her confidence; even in compromising situations, she keeps her composure and carries on with her job. I wouldn’t be surprised if she felt a wee bit embarrassed after her snafus, but they haven’t stopped her from touring or doing her Beyoncé thing.

A few weeks ago, the marvelous Texan in Tokyo posted a vlog titled, “It’s Okay to Suck.” I’ll admit that my initial reaction upon seeing the title was wrinkling my face in derision and saying, “Who would ever be okay with that?” Then I actually watched the video and learned something valuable:

It’s okay to suck. (Duh.)

As human beings, we’re fallible. We’re constantly saying the wrong thing or filing the incorrect paperwork or unintentionally flaking on plans because we just can’t be arsed to update our iCal. Most things we attempt for the first time we get completely wrong, and it could take hundreds thousands millions a lot of tries before we get it even slightly less wrong.

Here’s what it all comes down to: It’s okay to suck. It’s not okay to stop trying to improve.

I sucked at my drills in class that night. Did I enjoy it? No. But will I accept it? Yes. How will I respond? By acknowledging my flaws and continuing to improve in areas where I know I can be better. I’m not expecting to become the next Cynthia Rothrock in a matter of weeks (although that’d be nice), but even teeny-tiny progress in my training would make it all worthwhile.

You’re more than your mistakes. If anything, how you respond to your mistakes speaks volumes. If you throw your arms up and proclaim that you’re sooo over it every single time something doesn’t go your way, you won’t accomplish much in life. Strive for perfection but don’t let it be the only thing that drives you to succeed. The more you let go of that notion that you have to be 100% in everything that you do, the easier things will come to you. You’ll feel a lot better for it, too — who enjoys constant stress ulcers? (I do…n’t!)

Again, I am a recovering perfectionist, and I struggle with following this advice myself at times. However, it’s becoming easier for me to put on the brakes when I feel myself starting to spiral after mucking up. (Practice does make perfect!) I’ve experienced life on the opposite of stress and guess what, guys? It’s pretty damn nice. That’s what motivates me to try.

The next time you find yourself reeling from a bad turn of events, I hope you’ll step back, take a deep breath, and remember the points above. Trust me when I say you’ll feel a lot better for doing so.

The Monday Question:

What’s your go-to method for bouncing back from a bad day? Share your wisdom with the world in the comments below.

Til next Monday!

5 thoughts on “From a Recovering Perfectionist: 5 Ways to Bounce Back from a Bad Day

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