It’s Not The Strike, But the Spare That Counts

By Robert Clark, June 23, 2016

I took bowling in college. That doesn’t mean I’ve mastered it, but I did learn a thing or two from the class. One thing I learned is that great bowlers are measured by the ability to clean up after a mess, not that they get perfect strikes all the time. It’s not the strike, but the spare that counts. When we are working to make changes or just wanting to live a disciplined life, this lesson can be helpful.

It is easy to feel discouraged when we make mistakes. Some people feel discouraged when they eat a second piece of dessert, talk badly about someone, lose their temper in traffic or have too much to drink. After a person “falls,” they may say to themselves, “what’s the point?” This can lead a person to give up on their goals, or become discouraged believing their goals are out of reach. There are many ways our words can make us feel discouraged. In today’s blog entry, I will focus on the decision of eating two desserts. What can we say to encourage ourselves after making a poor choice?

Learning to tolerate discomfort is helpful.   A person can learn to feel the unpleasantness of failure without drawing unhelpful conclusions. It is essential to learn to tolerate discomfort to have success at any discipline. We can learn to feel the physical and psychological discomfort of eating two deserts without trashing our selves and letting our discipline suffer more from continued unhelpful choices. “Although I have made a poor choice in this circumstance, that doesn’t mean I will make a poor choice in the next.”

Becoming aware of our self-talk can be very helpful in managing our mistakes. We can learn to challenge our unhelpful self-talk and replace it with helpful self-talk. For instance, to challenge the question “what’s the point?” a person could say, “there are a lot of reasons to eat healthy.”   “I actually feel better physically and psychologically when I eat healthy food.” “When I eat healthy it helps me have energy in my workouts.” “I actually enjoy many healthy options.” Feeling discouraged after making an unhelpful choice is normal. It is important to manage this disappointment well for good health. “Although I let myself eat two pieces of desert doesn’t mean that I have ruined my day. I will opt to have a salad and water tonight to balance it out.” It can be easy to say, “Who cares?” when we make certain choices. Yet, it can be more helpful to say, “I fell off the wagon at lunch, so tonight I will eat more responsibly.”

One of the most unhelpful things we can say is, “what’s the point?” or “who cares?” However, being mindful that you do care and have made a choice you’re unhappy with is helpful. The true measure of success is how we respond after a mistake or a bad choice, not if we are perfect. How does a person get up after falling down? When a person is working on goals, like weight loss, they will make mistakes and unhelpful choices along the way. Yet, the choices made after those mistake can make all the difference. Today is the only day we have. Your day is not ruined because of an unhelpful choice. Today will offer you many choices, so you can make the next choice a helpful one!

It is very common for people to call themselves names after making bad choices. If your best friend made a mistake how would you talk to them? Would you call your best friend names? If not, why would you call yourself names? As people become more aware of what they are saying on the inside, they can learn to encourage them selves after a fall. “I will choose a healthy option at my next meal.” “I can learn to make better choices next time.” “I will eat a salad later.” “I give myself permission to have a fattening meal today.” “I have lost weight in the past and I can do it again.” “I ate healthy food all week, after this meal I will eat healthy again.”

Another helpful tool is learning to avoid black and white thinking patterns, avoiding words like always and never. When we use terms like “always,” “never,” “everyone” or “nobody” we move into generalizations. “I will never be able to eat healthy,” or “I am always messing up!” Such generalizations are often untrue. Recognize, for example, “I am not always messing up, I had a salad yesterday” or “I have eaten more healthy meals this week than last week, so that is evidence that I am able to eat healthy.” When we become specific in our language, we have a greater likelihood of success.

Becoming more aware of your self-talk can help you learn to get up after you fall down. Learning to tolerate the discomfort and avoiding black and white statements are two helpful tools for strength to get up after falling down. When you make a mess, remember it’s not the strike, but the spare that counts.