“You’re not trying hard enough”
5 painful words that should not be drilled into a young, vulnerable and still developing mind. While everyone is entitled to their own opinions, this particular opinion should be kept to oneself. How are we to know who truly is and isn’t trying hard enough? How are we to know where to draw the line between what is enough and what isn’t enough?
I can think of far too many moments I was told those words through out my life. Maybe those who spoke them simply had the intention of motivating me to do better in the future. Maybe they didn’t realize how much of an impact those words can have on a young person’s developing sense of self esteem. However, regardless of their intentions – those words always took a stab at my esteem every time I heard them.
Growing up, I was naturally quite shy and unsure of myself. So hearing that phrase repeatedly from an array of different people lead me to believe that no matter what I did, or how much effort I put into things, it simply wasn’t enough because “I could’ve tried harder”.
I remember dreading gym class in middle school, because every time I didn’t run fast enough to my gym teacher’s standards, I was told I wasn’t trying hard enough. That eventually lead me to believe that I was a bad runner compared to every other student in the class. Because of this – I lost the motivation to even try. In my head it made sense: why would I try if no matter what, my gym teacher would think I could’ve done better? It was a lose-lose situation.
When it came around to our annual sports day, I was required to run a 300 meter race. I still remember the terrible, anticipatory anxiety I felt when even thinking about the upcoming race. I pictured millions of parents and students faces as they discovered and pitied the fact that I was too scared to try hard and that I was a bad runner. I imagined their sense of embarrassment as their eyes followed my red, sweaty face to the end of the finish line in last place. I even imagined my own parents trying to hide their disappointment through words of encouragement.
Even if none of what I anticipated was true; I was trapped in all these anxious, paranoid thoughts and because of this, I underperformed as a result due to the self-fulfilling prophecy. The self-fulfilling prophecy occurs when an idea becomes a reality simply because someone else believes it. Because I was told by my gym teacher I wasn’t trying hard enough in practice, I ended up as a result – underperforming and therefore confirming her belief that I just didn’t try hard enough.
In an ideal world, my gym teacher should have recognized that I was struggling to cope with anxious feelings and should have spoken to the school counselor/my parents instead of further confirming and worsening my anxious fears. But she didn’t. She handled it in the worst way possible and because of that, and so many other situations similar that I have had to deal with, it angers me to even think about.
The more I was told I never tried hard enough, the louder the negative voice in the back of my mind became. “You didn’t try hard enough. You didn’t run fast enough. You didn’t workout long enough. You didn’t study hard enough. You shouldn’t have eaten that. You didn’t put in enough effort.” It became so loud to the point where I never felt satisfied with myself after anything that I did. And it wasn’t until I realized this, along with my therapist, that I was able to focus on changing it and shutting up that negative voice.
We all need to make a conscious effort to turn down that negative voice in our minds and turn up the compassionate, kinder voice. The more you practice at doing this, the better you get – promise! Now, I try and do what feels right for me and when I am finished, I remind myself that what I did was enough for me and that’s all that matters. And because of this – I can leave the gym feeling satisfied and proud of myself. I can eat a slice a pizza one night and not feel guilty. I can splurge a bit on myself every now and then and not feel like a bad person. I think by now you get the point – so why not, starting right now – try to do the same?