She proceeded to explain how she managed to accidentally delete an important work document, break off the heel of her shoe exiting an elevator, pick a fight with her (now very irritated) boyfriend over nothing, and learn that she got a B on her final paper in Ethnomusicology, therefore resulting in an A- in that class instead of the A she was hoping for.
Wow, really? “Loser?”
Accidents happen, sure. Bad luck and hormonal-emotional outbursts do as well. Disappointment? Happens every day. But none of those things make her a loser – not even close. She had a bad day with some unfortunate outcomes. She tried her best on her paper but didn’t hit it out of the ballpark. She acted out due to stress and frustration. None of those are character flaws, they are human actions. I expressed all of this to her, and she finally began to breathe normally. By the time we hung up, she seemed to have recovered a bit.
After the phone call, I thought more about her situation and put myself in her place for a moment. What I honestly discovered was interesting: I would have felt the exact same way and said the exact same thing to myself – LOSER-VILLE! So why is it that I’m so quick to support and soothe my niece, but dealing with myself I turn into a sadistic drill sergeant?
I believe the easiest explanation is this: habit. Giving other people support and compassion comes naturally to me. But when it comes to giving myself advice, my automatic default is to scold and admonish. I don’t even think about it, I just go there automatically. It’s a bad habit, and one I’ve been trying to break since that phone conversation.
Something many of us have in common is that we tend to be way too hard on ourselves. It’s something we do automatically, without ever stopping to think about what, how, or why. This is not a good practice for several reasons. Mostly, it’s unrealistic, meaning the bad stuff tends to be exaggerated. Next, it’s overly-harsh — would you ever use the same words you often use on yourself on someone you love or care about? Lastly, it’s counter-productive — punishment has rarely yielded a happy or willing participant.
So, where do we start? How do we begin showing ourselves a little kindness and tenderness? How do we cut ourselves a little slack? I believe it begins with becoming aware of the mental language that we use on ourselves at certain times, and trying to stop those sentences as early as possible. Here are a few steps I’ve been taking that seem to help me turn things around when the negative self-talk starts flaring up:
1) Count to 10. This can stop your thought process, establish a little distance from it and provide more clarity about the situation.
2) What would you say to a friend? Tell yourself the same thing you’d tell your best friend or a loved one in the same position. You probably give great advice, you just don’t listen to it.
3) Replace “I should” with “It would benefit me to” Whenever you find that you’re “I should-ing” yourself to death, try saying “It would benefit me to” in place of it. Example: instead of, “I really should go to the gym today,” say “It would really benefit me to go to the gym today.” It works the other way around too, with “I shouldn’t” (“It wouldn’t be to my benefit if I ate a half pint of ice cream right now.”) Find your own version that works best for you.
4) Forgive yourself, learn, and move on. What’s done is done, no point in chastising yourself further. All you’ll accomplish is feeling worse. Let it go, learn your lesson, vow to remind yourself next time, and continue forward.
5) At the end of each day, write down something positive about yourself. It might be something that happened that day, it might be something in general. Just make sure it’s good and make sure you allow yourself to feel good about it. If you’d prefer to do this in the morning, that’s great too. Whenever you’re feeling a little self-punishing, pull out the list and read it. See? You’re pretty cool after all.
I’ve been trying to do these 5 simple things each day, and I have to tell you…. it’s been helping. I find myself in a better overall mood, less testy and irritable, and more willing to be the first one to smile at someone else. My ultimate hope is that by showing myself more kindness, a greater, broader ripple effect of positive energy is being created every day. So far, I think it’s working.