Self Critical Mind Games

Almost on a daily basis, my mind plays games with me. It’s almost as if a voice comes out of no where and “challenges” me to do something. If I succeed, I will feel happy and disciplined; if I fail, I will feel weak and unworthy of facing any future challenges.

Usually these “challenges” take the form of little physical games, self control, or coordination tests.


  • Countdown from 65 seconds while NOT blinking and swishing mouth wash at the same time This one comes to mind at night when I am getting ready for bed. It sort of created itself from my oral hygiene routine: I gargle/swish with mouthwash and count to 65 as directed by the instructions. Somewhere along the line, my self critical alter ego decided that I had to swish, count to 65, and also not blink all at the same time as a sort of “test” of will and fortitude.
  • Tossing objects into the trashcan from varying distances. This one enters my brain when I’m cleaning up the apartment or happen to have a piece of debris in my hand. I will typically “dare” myself to make a basket from a challenging distance. If I don’t make it, I feel stupid, worthless, and uncoordinated. I feel as if missing the basket means I lack the ability to “rise to the ocassion”, or “be a gamer” (one who can muster his/her best effort when it counts, aside from practice or rehersal).
  • Climbing stairs in sets of two, not one, to go faster and make it more challenging. I think this is an obsessive compulsive habit. For some reason, I feel that by climbing steps in sets of two, I am somehow “in shape” or more “efficient” opposed to walking up stairs normally. This habit must look ridiculous to those around me, but to me it seems to take on importance. I feel more physically fit and able if I can continue to step up two stairs at a time, and therefore could always fallback on single steps in times of distress or old age.
  • Impromptu “If you can’t do this, your’re that” mini challenges. In times of uncertainty, I feel that I can somehow sway myself and the future into balance by completing a small challenge. For example, I will say to myself: “You’ll be rich one day, if you can put a quarter in your right hand, toss it, and catch it with your left; then toss it with your left and catch it with your right”. Obviously this puts a lot of pressure on me, and this task suddenly takes on enormous ramifications, since dropping the quarter means I’ll be poor. I have no clue why I do this.

Overall, I think these little games are attempts at proving my own worth to myself, or validating feelings of inferiority. Also, as I have mentioned in other posts, I always feel like when it’s the “real time to perform” (ie. playing an instrument on stage, running a serious race, or taking the SATs) I choke and fall short of “rising to the ocassion”.

In the wake of a mediocre or worse performance, I fall back on these little games as a way to build myself back up, thinking: If I can do this simple challenge, the next time a real performance event comes around, I’ll have the strength, poise, and will to out-do myself.

Sadly, I think playing all these small games actually hurts my performance abilities. By constantly trying to validate myself on a daily, sometimes hourly basis, I feel like I lose my competitive “edge” or that extra “push” that regular people can set aside for times when performing the best you can really counts.

I’ve tried to stop these self abusive habits, but it is hard because I feel worthless without some quantifiable means to evaluate myself. Looking forward, I need to work on being relaxed and composed when I’m not performing (or when I don’t require exceptional concentration, energy, or thinking skills) and saving all my energies for when I do really need them.

That way, practicing for an event is more enjoyable, less self-toturing, and truly more beneficial in terms of saving crucial energies for when it comes to testing my true abilities.

Most importantly, even if I do drop these silly routines, and do manage to perform better in activities, I must always remember to measure myself by my own values, feelings of worth, and level of happiness. Having a million dollars, owning a world record, or doing 1000 push-ups are notable achievements, but in the reality they are not the true measure of a person.