How to Overcome Self-Criticism
Are you your own worst critic? Do you motivate yourself with self-criticism and focus on the negative repercussions that will occur if you don’t get tasks done in a timely manner? While self-criticism may seem to be an effective way of motivating yourself to meet an upcoming deadline, overcoming procrastination, or to get your daily to-do list complete, it is not the only way to motivate yourself—and surely not the healthiest way.
When you use negativity and self-criticism as a motivator, you increase the amount of cortisol and stress related hormones surging throughout your body. Not only does this make you feel tense, it can have multiple negative effects on your physical well-being. An increased stress level can also lead you to unhealthy habits such as stress eating, stress spending, or it sometimes backfires and creates further procrastination. As you can see, using negative methods will never result in positive outcomes.
Even if your self-criticism gets the job done more often than not, consider finding healthy motivators such as self-compassion. When you extend kindness and compassion toward yourself in regard to your perceived inadequacies and failures, you are practicing self-compassion. Self-compassion is the polar opposite of self-criticism, yet it is an effective and healthy way to motivate yourself to get things done.
As someone who spent years motivating myself with negativity, when the first time self-compassion was introduced to me as an alternative, I thought it sounded silly and unrealistic. However, when I began to think about it, I realized that compassion is what I offer to my friends and family, both personally and professionally, when they are being overly critical of themselves. Why would I treat my loved ones with such compassion, and never give myself any? Maybe because we are always hyperaware of how our actions and advice affects others, and then we don’t realize how terribly negativity impacts ourselves.
As I researched a bit further, I was able to find several scientific studies that have shown how negativity and self-criticism sabotages success and can even lead to low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. On the flip side, I found that self-compassion is linked to reduced levels of stress and anxiety, more positive emotional well-being, and helps individuals adjust to drastic life changes.
By acknowledging my humanity, and that I am not the only person who struggles with negativity and self-criticism, I began to feel less isolated. Whether I use my new-found self-compassion as a motivator to complete tasks, or as a pick me up when I have fallen short of expectations—I now see my struggles as a common concern that all of humanity struggle to balance. And then other people’s stories started to motivate me to improve myself the way they did. I started searching for something, anything, that I can start working on so I can stop these self-criticizing thoughts.
The Truth About Self-Compassion
Since our society encourages negativity and self-criticism, it is easy to write off self-compassion as unrealistic or a luxury. However the truth about self-compassion is that by changing your perspective, you can begin to appreciate its immeasurable value. Below are a few ways in which you can change your perspective:
- Everyone Has Struggles—When you focus the majority of your time on potential negative outcomes, and true negative outcomes, it is easy to feel isolated in your struggle. By allowing yourself compassion, you acknowledge that no one is perfect, everyone struggles, and that you are not alone in your struggles.
- It’s Not a Cop-out—Self-compassion is not a cop-out. In fact self-compassion is acknowledging an area of opportunity, or acknowledging a fault, yet not beating yourself up relentlessly over it. Remember that (just like everyone else on the planet) you are imperfect human being on a journey of growth. As Leonard Cohen explained in his song Anthem: “Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
- Negativity Is Counterproductive—Self-criticism and negativity can become so overpowering that they make your life miserable. Even if you accomplish the tasks at hand, there is often minimal sense of fulfillment; instead focus on the next impending negative outcome. Self-criticism creates undue pressure that makes it difficult to celebrate your success.
Your negativity can also lead to strain in your personal and professional relationships with others. You may not think you have the power to change the negative thoughts that are always running through your head, but with a practice and perseverance, you CAN do it. And it will change your entire life. In tomorrow’s post, I will share four powerful methods of overcoming self-criticism with the power of self-compassion.