How many times in a given day do you put yourself down?
I used to do it all the time. I thought, “If I am not hard on myself, I will not get stuff done! I will not achieve my goals!”
If I did not wake up by 6:00, I would tell myself I am lazy and not as good as successful entrepreneurs who do
If I had downtime and a little too much Netflix-time, I would beat myself up for not being productive
If dates did not go well, I would assume that it was ALL my fault
Even if I did achieve a goal, I would think it was not good enough, compared to an imaginary standard of success I set for myself.
Author Mark Manson recently wrote “In Defense of Being Average.” In his article, he explains that online we are bombarded by the unreal idea that everyone is bouncing around like happy unicorns off to their next epic adventure, while making millions of dollars, doing 1000 push-ups before the crack of dawn to maintain their 12-pack, and dating super-models (but of course, only those with a PhD). Reaching for the top is great but ending up in the middle is not so bad. It is reality.
While I knew this was not reality, this was the level of success I was comparing myself to. I had a desire to be extraordinary--at everything! Anything less was failure. Especially, mediocrity. To get there, I “Tiger-Mothered” myself.
Instead of feeling motivated, I was left paralyzed by fear of never being good enough. All the self-abuse left me exhausted.
Something had to change.
From self-doubt/deprecation to loving yourself! Self-compassion to the rescue.
In a nutshell, self-compassion can be described as being kinder and more accepting of yourself.
Self-compassion has been strongly linked to mental wellbeing, lower rates of stress, depression, anxiety, perfectionism, and procrastination.
In four studies undertaken by University of California researchers, it was found that people who were prompted to take a self-compassionate approach to personal weakness reported greater motivation to improve and change their behavior for the better.
Self-compassion makes failure seem less threatening and provides hope that change is possible, rather than leading you to give up or avoid taking risks. If you are always self-flagellating, it’s hard to want to try again at something if you initially failed at it.
As clinical psychologist Tal Schlosser says, “Self-compassion provides a much more stable sense of worth that isn’t based on achievement—you have worth because you’re human.”
The key to becoming kinder and more accepting of myself began with noticing every time I judged myself negatively.
I did this by riffing on Tim Ferriss’ 21 day no-complaint challenge. The basis of that challenge was to not complain for 21 days. About anything!
For my purposes, the goal with the self-compassion experiment was to go 7 days without negatively criticizing myself.
I (similar to the 21 day no-complain challenge), wore a wristband and switched it to to the other wrist every time I had a negative thought about myself. Then, I would simply note how many times in a given day I did this.
What is self-deprecation?
I defined self-deprecation as NEGATIVE and UNPRODUCTIVE self-criticism, every time I said something that indicated I was not good enough with no attempt to accept the situation with kindness and take the necessary steps to fix the problem.
The following would require a wrist switch:
“Why can’t you be as successful as Elon Musk, c’mon man, what is the deal?” I mean really, that sort of thinking is not helpful. Or realistic. It is okay to reach for the stars but it is just as important to accept that being average or ‘decent’ at something is not such a bad thing.
The following would not require a wrist switch (these are critical comments, but not self-deprecating):
“You really messed up and got angry at John. It’s best to apologize and let him know it was not your intention to hurt him.”
“You did not give your best effort at work this week. Next week, let’s clear all the distractions and be productive.”
When I first began this experiment, I was switching the wristband like mad. My wrists were bruised, almost as much as my ego. I was a self-hater. However, simply noting the times I deprecated/negatively criticized myself set a challenge for the next day. For example, If I criticized myself 5 times in a day, I would try to ensure I did it less the next day.
It took me weeks before I could go a single day without putting myself down. Old habits die hard. Real hard. What was important was that I made progress.
Here are some of the changes I noticed as a result of practicing greater self-compassion:
I used to constantly tell myself all the reasons I was not good enough to date and why no woman would ever really like me. This self-talk eventually became much more compassionate and allowed me to put myself out there and date regularly (I am now in an amazing relationship). This same internal transformation also carried over to my career, which led me to reach out to the great people at the Five Minute Journal™. I am now lucky enough to work with them!
As I became less judgmental with myself, I became less judgmental and more empathetic towards others. Everyone fights their own internal battles. It became much easier to relate to others on a deeper level.
People want to be around people who are happy or pleasant or, well, not miserable. Misery may love company but with other miserable people. Just think how it feels to be in the presence of someone happy versus a stressed out, negatively self-critical person. I became keenly aware of those kind of toxic people and learned to keep my distance.
It’s ok to be average. Essentially, success is a bell curve, as Mark Manson described. It is great to shoot for the extreme, the Elon Musk territory but it is not a fail or a disaster to be ‘good enough’ and do a ‘decent’ job, if that is what comes of the effort.
Most noticeably from this experiment, I became happier and more content with my life. We all have our moments of doubt and feeling blue. I am not dancing through the streets with a smile on my face every day :). Before this transformation, each day was a struggle not to beat myself up. As a result, I am less likely to fall into a day-long spiral of negative self-criticism. Just because you break your diet and scarf a cookie does not mean the day is a wash and you may as well down the whole box.
While I am not perfect, I can now recover from a hurtful moment of self-doubt much more quickly. This was a hugely positive change.
Can you go 7 days without negatively criticizing yourself?