Thursday, October 11, 2012

Tiger mom made me fat: Reflection on why I question my ability to succeed

I started this blog to share successful strategies during my journey towards a healthier lifestyle, but I think there's also value in thinking about what has held me back, since I'm guessing most people like me have had multiple barriers that keep us from succeeding. Even if we're not exactly the same, maybe my own realizations will help others reflect. So in the past few weeks, I've noticed a huge barrier that I'm trying to overcome: I often tell myself that "I can't do it..." before I try, and I'm starting to wonder where this self-doubt comes from.

I started noticing my inner voice of defeat around 3 weeks ago when I was doing push presses at CrossFit with Andrew, and he tossed on 25 lbs on each side for the first set. I remember looking next to me and seeing the other guys who always lift more than me putting on the same weight, and saying, "Wait! I can't do that... THEY'RE putting on 25 lbs on each side, are you crazy?!" Andrew scolded me for focusing on others instead of myself, and so I tried... and I did it. Not only did I do it, but I added more with each set. Then there was the 5K run, which I was almost certain I wouldn't be able to finish. I've never even run a mile, how the hell would I run 5K? My old roommate from San Francisco, Peter, was running beside me and not only kept me company, but also kept me motivated by encouraging me and observing that I wasn't just able to complete the run, but was actually passing people too. I don't know why I was so certain I would fail. I'm not one to be clouded by self-doubt too often. In fact, I pride myself in pushing boundaries, which is reflected in my academic and professional career. So why is it, that when it comes to fitness, my first thought is, "I can't"?

A year and a half ago, there was a book called "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" by Amy Chua that chronicled how she tried raising her kids with strict standards and high expectations, particularly academically. This is the stereotype of how Asian-American kids are raised, and it has some elements of truth because I was raised in a similar fashion. In middle school, my tiger parents made it clear that my report card should have nothing but A's in all academic subjects, and I should particularly excel in math. I was told that when my father was in school, he was the best in his class in math, therefore, I could be too. Since then, I've never doubted my ability to be good at math. In High School, I skipped a year of pre-calculus and went straight to AP Calculus. I was confident that I wouldn't need an extra year to prepare for calculus, unlike everyone else. By the time I graduated high school, I had taken 2 years of calculus and a year of statistics. Despite the high expectations academically, there was always one glaring exception, all I had to do was pass Physical Education class. According to my parents, our family was just not athletically inclined, and therefore I couldn't do well. With that in mind, I never tried and came home with consistent C's in P.E., and no one pushed me to do better. I may be overly attributing things to my upbringing, but I do wonder if these initial expectations affect me even today, and if they're the reason that I'm confident in my academic ability, and insecure when it comes to athletic activities.

I share this story for two reasons. One is that in the past month, I learned how much of my ability to succeed is mental. Without even knowing it, I was giving up without fully trying because I just expected to fail, but by expelling negative thoughts, I've surprised myself with what I can do, and I know others will too when they try. I hope if anyone is having a hard time getting started, my story will get some people to try. I’m sure there are others who have their own engrained belief, for whatever reason, that makes them think that they can't eat right, or can't exercise, or can't be healthy. The second reason is to just share a random thought. I don’t know for sure if I’ve been impacted by the initial expectations set as a kid, it’s just a theory, and the title “Tiger mom made me fat” is said in jest. It does make me think, however, about kids that we may actually be impacting by just dismissing their ability to do something, like do well in school, either explicitly discouraging them to try certain things, or implicitly through media, role modeling, or the way we interact with them. Just some food for thought. Speaking of food, here's a new recipe this week for a Paleo Beef Stew with Side of Mashed Carrots and Turnips!

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