Society today is all about striving. Unfortunately, while striving does have its place, we often allow striving to stress us the heck out and lead us into a black pit of despair and self-recrimination when we strive and fail, or strive and miss the mark, or just become downright exhausted from all that striving.
Rest is such a necessary component to true health and success, but sometimes we let our innate desire to strive overcome us. The problem is that when striving isn’t just a momentary state but actually takes the driver’s seat in your life, it’s oh so tempting to be hard on yourself or be overly critical of your efforts and performance.
How Do You Know You’re Being Overly Critical of Yourself?
The truth is, sometimes you might not know! People are often overly critical of themselves without realizing they’re doing it unless and until someone points it out. Then it becomes a case of ‘know better, do better,” but you really can’t know until you know.
One telling sign that you’re overly critical is when you tell yourself to suck it up and do better, even if what you just did was perfectly acceptable and even done well by anyone else’s standard but your own.
Another sign is you might find yourself engaging in negative self-talk, beating yourself up, and talking to yourself like you would probably never talk to anyone else.
Sometimes you might find yourself ruminating on your mistakes or missteps, blaming and shaming yourself, and over-analyzing pretty much every move you make or word you say.
Ultimately what happens when you are so unkind to yourself is that you wind up stuck, unable to make a move or reach your goals. Procrastination becomes the order of the day, and it’s an endless cycle that can take down even the hardiest of souls.
Friends, Why All That Self-Criticism?
Some of you might think you have to be so hard on yourself because if you won’t, who will? Or perhaps you’re hard on yourself because it’s a pattern that you’ve grown up watching somewhere and unwittingly adopted for yourself.
Some may even think that all that self-flagellation is good for you because then you’ll be motivated to do better or ‘be’ better.
The reality is, being too self-critical is a form of self-sabotage. It can actually demotivate you and lead you to less productivity, less kindness, less self-control, less… well, everything. Overly self-critical behavior leads to nothing good.
What if the Criticism is True?
Granted, there are times that your self-critical thoughts may be true. Perhaps you did do something that you know you could have done better. The best thing to do is pay attention to when it’s happening and not get stuck in self-recrimination mode. Try reframing those thoughts into more constructive ones that can help you move forward.
Tips for Breaking the Self-Critical Cycle
- Name that behavior––the first step in overcoming anything is first identifying and acknowledging the problem. Maybe you already know it’s a problem, but it’s become such a habit that it no longer ‘feels’ like a problem. Be honest with yourself and admit that yes, it actually is a problem.
- Skip the generalizations––sometimes it’s easy to focus on one single thing and base your whole identity on that one misstep. Don’t do that. Be kind and remind yourself that everyone has good days and bad days. That may have been a bad day, but tomorrow will be better.
- Practice being mindful––maybe try a tool like meditation if this is difficult for you. Being mindful of your thoughts and feelings means you notice them, but you don’t engage with them. They don’t consume you. Meditation can help you learn to detach and simply observe your thoughts and behavior patterns that need work.
- Play the ‘What If’ game––only instead of imagining all the things that could go wrong in a day, imagine everything that could go right. For instance: ‘What if my boss actually loves this idea?’
- Allow yourself to feel the feels with a timer––in other words, don’t get stuck! Give yourself a time limit to feel and process whatever you’re feeling, and then decide to let it go when your time is up. Literally, mentally say to yourself, “I’m letting this go now and moving on.”
- Broaden your scope of excellence––sometimes you may not always reach a goal quite the way you imagine. It doesn’t mean your effort wasn’t excellent; it just means you need to redefine what the ‘win’ looks like. Give ‘winning’ a broader meaning so that you aren’t forcing yourself into a tiny little box, and allow yourself to celebrate those wins, no matter how small they may seem.
- Practice gratitude––but real gratitude, not just the ‘going through the motions’ kind of gratitude. Have you ever heard the saying, ‘attitude determines altitude’? Well, how about ‘an attitude of gratitude determines altitude’? There’s no better practice in life that you can cultivate than gratitude. You will be happier and more successful in all you do and feel more fulfilled when you take the time to appreciate all things, big and small.
Living in a cycle of harsh self-criticism is the worst, but you don’t have to live there. The beauty of life is that you get to choose what you give your valuable headspace to, one thought and one feeling at a time. Choose wisely and vow from this day forward to protect your inner peace like a ninja!
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