Re: Bad Brain Days, Tightropes, Perfectionism, and Progress

January 19, 2020

The best analogy I can come up with (that’s probably from somewhere else) for trying to make progress with something — in this instance, Parkour/movement in general — is that it feels like walking on a tightrope. There are the good days: when your balance is steady, your focus is sharp, and your steps are confident and well-paced. Then there are the bad days, days like the one I recently had, when it seems like a struggle just to stay on.

On this particular “Bad Training Day” or, perhaps more accurately, “Bad Mental Health Day,” nothing felt right. I was listless, fatigued, my brain mired in the kind of fog that even forced movement wasn’t dispelling. Nothing clicked. People around my training spots irked me, and I couldn’t seem to focus or find any sense of flow. It took forever for my muscles to warm, made harder by the cold weather and chill wind. I simply wandered from spot to spot, doing the littlest of bits, trying not to give in to the mounting frustration and self-flagellation that was ever-lurking in the back of my head about the waste of time and transportation money.

I am no stranger to days like these. Whether in Parkour or just life in general, I’ve always had “down-cycles” as I like to call them, in varying degrees of intensity. My whole life, I have struggled with the need to be perfect at everything, all the time, and so whenever my brain or body betrays me for whatever reason, the self-hate can mount to abhorrent levels.

Progress must be linear and constant or less it’s not progress. Everything must be done right the first time, or repeated ad nauseam — ignoring need for rest, food, basic human needs — until it’s something I’m happy with.

Except. I’m never happy with it, because nothing is ever enough.

Be Where You Are

However, on that cold, depressing, “lazy” Parkour day, I tried something different: Acceptance. I accepted that that’s just the kind of day I was having. Where I would once let the frustration give way to recklessness in an attempt to “push through,” I instead attempted to embrace the little I could do. Celebrate it, even. Why risk injury or burnout that takes you out of commission (and end up beating yourself up for THAT too)? Why not just be where you are?

A core tenet in the Parkour philosophy is “Etre et Durer.” It means “To be and to last.” While I always understood what it meant, I don’t think I truly embraced the practice of it until then.

It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t perfect. The temptation to rush across the tightrope as quickly as possible was ever-present. Despite, or in some self-destructive way almost because of, the knowledge that it would likely just lead to slipping off the line completely.

But I am trying to teach myself that I still matter even when I am not at my best.

Learning gentleness towards oneself, just as progress with anything else, is like walking on a tightrope. Some days, it’s steady-going. Other days, you’re just trying not to fall off. But if you can manage that, then you survive to try again, and again, and again.

Continuing to become. Going further. Lasting longer.

Etre et durer.

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