Several years ago, I played tennis with T~, a dark-haired, beer-gutted, hard-hitting, clay court enthusiast, with the sweetest heart and the loudest, foulest mouth on the court. "What a stupid stupid shot!" he'd yell. And "Goddammit! How could you be such an idiot?!" Luckily, he was only reprimanding himself. But still, every time he did this, I tensed. The people on the next court tensed. It was uncomfortable.
"You should fire that inner coach of yours," I said to him once. "He doesn't seem to be helping your game." The words fell out of my mouth and I instantly regretted them. I'd never thought of the "inner coach" before and I doubted T~ would appreciate the suggestion. He'd just lost a third game in a row and he was seething. To my surprise, he laughed, and relaxed a little. He was a bit gentler with himself for a few minutes, a bit more focused. But three points into the next game he double-faulted and began berating himself for having the worst f-ing serve in the universe.
You always do that, Amy, I found myself thinking the other day as I walked the six blocks from my class to my car. What is wrong with you? I'd eaten too much lunch on top of too much breakfast. My stomach was stretched uncomfortably and I felt like a failure. You really have a problem. You're getting fat and you're just going to get fatter. By the time I got to the car I was miserable, considering stopping on the way home to buy a treat to cheer myself up. But I recognized the cycle, the downward spiral of that kind of action, and suddenly, I recognized something else as well.
I hadn't seen or thought of T~ in three years. In fact, I'd quit playing with him after that day. But somehow, I had his voice lodged inside my head. I had inadvertently hired his inner coach.
So I promptly took my own advice. I fired that coach and hired another, modeled after Lance Armstrong, Martina Navratilova, a conglomeration of everyone I could think of whom I considered successful and imagined would be supportive. Take the reins, my new coach said to me. You're in charge. You can do this. Easily.
I decided to spend my afternoon running long-avoided errands, then take a jog in the cool of the evening. I'd shower, have a nice salad for dinner, work on a painting, watch a few episodes of Sex and the City from my beloved DVD collection, and start fresh in the morning.
It turned out to be a great day.