Welcome to our first instalment in 2022 of the regular segment, Wellbeing Wednesdays. This segment features work from our friends at MUMUS Community and Wellbeing. Today’s piece is from Shreya Mago, who expresses a perhaps familiar feeling of the pressure of self-improvement. Stay tuned for regular updates from C&W throughout the year!
Whether it be being surrounded by inspiring individuals, examples of incredible people in medicine, or general glamorised social media content, medicine seems to breed a sort of obsession for self-improvement and health.
Its the type of self-improvement you read about in self-help books. The one that med students dream of achieving when they obsess over those “day in the life” or “how to increase your productivity” youtube videos. We’ve all done it, no shame or judgement here.
What makes this type of growth so hard is not just the act of having to make that change. Of course, it’s already initially difficult to force yourself to not snooze through that 6am wakeup, hit the gym most days or meal prep on the weekends. But what makes this process of self improvement so much more difficult is our own minds, which seem to criticise us when we stray even slightly from our goal, and can sometimes struggle to accept that improvement isn’t always linear.
Medicine seems to breed a sort of obsession for self-improvement and health.
The 2020 lockdown was a time of self-focus and reflection for many. For me personally, I adopted, what was in my eyes, a healthy routine. I started waking up early, exercising daily, studying at more appropriate and routine times, and caring for my skin properly. But it was a slow process. Some days, I would be tired from forcing myself to wake up early all week and remain in bed for the better part of the day. Which is fine. It takes time for your body to get used to new activities. Only, at the time it didn’t feel fine. I’d be consumed with guilt and anxiety that I’d messed up my routine. After these feelings, there’d be increasing pressure to ‘fix’ things the next day. Do a harder workout, eat healthier, spend less time on my phone. I wouldn’t honour my body’s limits and I wouldn’t accept that adopting habits takes time. It’s not a perfect process, and even when something becomes a habit, it still may not happen every day. I ended up injuring my back and knees through the exercise I was doing, and was essentially told it was because I probably started doing too much, too soon, without giving my body time to adapt.
Even then, I didn’t really process that maybe I was being too harsh on myself. In retrospect, perhaps if I had listened to my body and what was best for it, as opposed to trying to match my life to a perfect, morning routine highlight reel every day, I may not have injured myself.
A couple years later, and I can say that those early wake-ups are now a pretty easy habit for me to stick to, and exercising most days doesn’t feel difficult. And sure, part of it is because it’s been a couple years now and I’m used to it. But even more so, it’s because I no longer put as much pressure on myself. If I sleep in, it’s because my body needs the rest to recover, and I don’t need to wake up feeling as though I’ve already wasted the best part of the day.
Our own minds … can sometimes struggle to accept that self-improvement isn’t always linear.
I regularly see traits or habits in other people which I try to adopt. But I’m realising more and more that I need to go easy on myself. Some days, I’ll get it right. I’ll spend less time on my phone and I’ll read a chapter of a book and go to bed on time. Other days I spend hours mindlessly scrolling on my phone and not getting enough sleep. But this is also fine. It’s a process of learning, and feelings of guilt only hinder our ability to function.
I can’t say that I no longer feel that guilt or anxiety, but I’m getting better at managing it. And I urge anyone who has felt this way to recognise that when you try to learn or improve yourself, ultimately you’re doing it for yourself. So why strain ourselves with harsh criticisms of everything that didn’t go perfect, and instead take things as a learning opportunity. Appreciate what went well in the day, what you achieved and what made you happy. And when considering what you could have done differently, rather than feeling that you’ve messed it all up, recognise that it’s a process, and when you get it, you’ll get it, and if you don’t today, that’s fine too.
Shreya Mago is the 2022 Co-Chair of MUMUS Community and Wellbeing