It is particularly timely, as this week I have found myself battling my demons in a big way.
Yes, In spite (or maybe because) of all the self-development work I do, I am a work in progress and I continually strive to be the best self I can be. This week has been exceptionally challenging on that front because I have been indulging in some self-criticism and worry. I find myself continually analysing myself, my thoughts and my actions and second guessing my judgement.
Now, being reflective is the key to personal development and growth, so while I am a big advocate of this, I also know how hard this can be to do while avoiding being self-critical at the same time. I was born a perfectionist, highly independent (even as a young child I would never ask for, or accept, help or support) and some would say, a control freak. Over the years I have learned to mellow this but old habits die hard.
I have spent years worrying, beating myself up over even the smallest of mistakes and slips of the tongue, feeling guilty and just generally believing I’m not good enough or worthy of having great things happen to me, or achieving great things.
Without delving too deeply into my psyche (as we really don’t have time for that here!), here are five ways I currently (and will continue to) employ to help me be less self-critical and more thankful for everything I have, while still working on achieving my full potential.
1. Challenge my thinking errors and be balanced in my thinking
This really takes practice. We often use language that is skewed or crooked. In psychology terms these are often called ‘thinking errors’. Most of us, if not all, will have thinking errors from time to time. Thinking errors are basically a way of thinking that are not evidence based or based in rational thought. It is important to remember that we shouldn’t be critical of ourselves for having thinking errors, our brains have the ability to filter and delete information as we don’t have the capacity to see everything that goes on around us. This is why there are two worlds, the real world, and our perception of the real world.
There are different types of thinking errors, but all will lead to feelings and behaviour that may not serve us in the long run. As humans, we have the ability to catastrophise, or to put it another way, make mountains out of molehills. I often used to catch myself saying I had a terrible day because one thing went wrong at work, or I was 10 minutes late having been stuck in traffic. For some reason, my brain wants to filter out the several great things that may have happened and focus on the one thing that didn’t go according to plan.
Now, when I catch myself saying I have had a terrible day, I do several things. Firstly, I ask myself what happened for me to think that the day was terrible and on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the worst day ever) where does this rank. If I am late for a meeting, it’s annoying and I don’t really like it, but it’s not really my worst day. This way I can balance my thinking to be more helpful in this situation, which means I am less self-critical.
In fact, as I am writing this, the news is on and they are reporting about the plane that has vanished en route to Cairo. Wow that has put my day (and week) into perspective.
In addition, I look for evidence for and against what I am thinking. Asking yourself “Is that true” is a really excellent way of beginning to challenge unhelpful thoughts.
There are lots of other types of this type of thinking and in general our day to day language is littered with our skewed thinking or beliefs. Here are a few you may (or may not) recognise in yourself:
· Labelling (I’m fat, stupid or ugly)
· All or nothing thinking (“I can/I can’t”)
· Making unfair comparisons (It’s not fair, my friend can eat whatever she wants and never gains weight – by the way my friend spends 15 hours a week doing kick boxing, she is 10 years younger than me and has two small children. Hmmmm)
· Mind-Reading (“I just know that so and so is saying this about me, or thinks this of me”)
· Predicting the future (I won’t apply for my dream job as I won’t get it”)
What’s important here is not the fact that you need to know every single type of thinking error, more that you are able to challenge your thoughts whenever you are feeling a way that might be disproportionate to the situation, or if you can’t understand why you are feeling this way. This way you can be reflective about situations and less self-critical.
2. Stop Apologising for Everything
I don’t know about you, but I am often apologising to someone about something, even if it’s not my fault. Someone walks into me, I apologise.
Always saying you are sorry leads to feelings of guilt and low self-worth. That’s not to say you shouldn’t apologise if you have made a mistake, cause someone harm or upset, or indeed, if you walk into another person. It’s more about almost being apologetic for talking, breathing or even existing.
Start thinking about when it is appropriate to say sorry and when you are saying it out of a sense of duty or something else.
3. Learn to accept compliments (and constructive feedback!)
How are you at accepting compliments? I used to be quite bad at this. “Nice dress”, “what this old thing?”
If someone gives you a compliment treat it like a gift. Thank them and move on from it, yet let the compliment sink into your sub-conscious so that you start to believe it to be true.
Conversely, learn to love constructive feedback (if you don’t already). I hate being criticised (back to my hugely independent streak and control-freakishness), yet I have learned to accept constructive feedback as helpful. After all, if I was doing something wrong, I would rather be told about it early on than find out weeks, months or even years later. When you get feedback see it as a learning opportunity and chance to improve. True, constructive feedback is also a gift.
Equally, don’t accept unfair criticism. If you think you have been unfairly criticised, ask for evidence to support the criticism and put your thoughts forward on the situation.
Importantly, remember all of this when you are talking to yourself critically, complimenting yourself or giving yourself feedback!
4. Remember to seek progress, not perfection
Someone once said to me that when you seek perfection you immediately set yourself up for failure. The truth is we can’t be perfect and by setting ourselves up to be we are critical when we get it wrong (which from time to time will happen). Also by waiting for things to be perfect before you do them, you may never get anything done. That’s not to say we shouldn’t be conscientious and take care in whatever we do. It just means that if you do get something wrong, remember you are not perfect and ask yourself how you could do it differently next time.
5. Be Grateful for what you have
I’m a great believer that universe might not always give us what we want, but it always gives us what we need. I keep a gratitude diary to say thanks for all my blessings. I write three gratitudes each morning and each night.
It helps me to concentrate on the things that are really positive in my life and to diminish the effect of the negative things that might have happened. This can be as simple as being grateful for a roof over my head, food in my belly and clean water to drink. I hope you are lucky enough to also have these things.
Hopefully some of these tools will help you develop and grow, as they help me.
Until next time…..