“You’ve been criticising yourself for years and it hasn’t worked; try approving of yourself and see what happens.” – Louise Hay
By now you are already getting good at avoiding criticism of others. I don’t know whether you have started to notice a difference in how people are responding yet, or whether you will notice that over the coming weeks as you continue to find it even more natural to avoid criticising others. Either way, it is now time today to turn our attention to the one person above all of whom we are usually the harshest critic – namely ourselves.
You know the sort of thing – you do a piece of work, and when you are finished, you look back on it and spot all the thing which were not perfect, any mistakes no matter how tiny and insignificant are played over and over again in your mind, as you tell yourself that you were rubbish or you should have done better, or worse yet, you start comparing yourself against others and how much better they would have done. And before you know it, any elation at having successfully completed your task are replaced by doubts, disappointment, and a general self-criticism of yourself for not being good enough.
I remember one time early in my speaking career, where I was given a training slot on stage during a larger NLP training week. I delivered my segment, answered all the questions the students had, confirmed that they had “got it”, and left the stage to a round of enthusiastic applause. Sounds like a successful presentation, right?
So why did I feel awful? Why did I feel like I had failed?
As I left the stage, all I was thinking about were all the thing I could have done better, how I could have been a more solid presenter, how my mentor would have done it better, all those sort of things – you know what I mean, right? You’ve almost certainly been there yourself!
So full of self-doubt and self-criticism was I that I left the room thinking that this was it, I was sure to be fired and my career as a trainer was over.
Of course, that didn’t happen – the students hd enjoyed the session, they had definitely learned what they needed to learn and had a lot of fun in the process. My boss congratulated me on a good session.
I was allowing my own self-criticism to cloud my view of the situation!
Of course I had not delivered it the way my boss would have done – at that point he had been teaching for 20 years, and I was just starting out! Yes I could have done things differently, and almost certainly would next time, but then again everyone can always think of ways in which they can do better, even the Masters do.
The point is that all too often we fall into self-criticism, holding ourselves to impossible standards, and then berating ourselves severely for failing to achieve the impossible. We compare ourselves with people who have been doing it all their lives, and judge ourselves harshly for not being as good as them. We find the least little flaw, and dig at it until it seems like a gaping chasm.
Have you ever thought back to something you did in the past, perhaps even when you were a child or a teenager, or just setting out in your field, and judged what you did then in the light of what you know now, and decided you were an idiot or stupid and felt bad about not being as good as you should be?
I’ll bet you have, and the truth is that all of us have done that at one time or another. Yet we are unfairly criticising ourselves there; the important thing is to acknowledge that we had done our best at the time with what we had and knew – of course now, years later, we know and have a lot more experience, so we would do things differently now, and that is absolutely fine! What it does not mean is that we should forever condemn ourselves for how we had acted in the past. Instead, recognise we’d done our best, and recognise also that we have grown and learned since then – not something everyone does!
Am I saying that we should never sect learn from our experiences, and always be;eve we are perfect?
Absolutely not, far from it!
By all means recognise that there is (as there always will be) room for growth and further improvement.
But DON’T do that at the expense of recognising your achievements.
Rather than constantly exposing ourselves to self-criticism, celebrate what we have achieved and also recognise and appreciate the opportunity for further growth and to be able to do it even better next time. Notice the deliberate use of words there – do it even better next time. Not “get it right next time” or “not screw up next time”, but “do it even better next time”.
Give that a go! The next time you find yourself indulging in self-criticism, pause and ask yourself these three questions –
- What did I do well?
- What is ONE thing I can improve upon next time to make it even better?
- Overall, what did I like about what I did?
Be as specific as you can with your answers, pinpoint the exact thing.
And if you find yourself thinking “I did none of it well, I screwed everything up” then just ask yourself again “Yes, and what was one thing you DID do well?” for there is always something positive, even from the most disastrous situation. If nothing else, at least you didn’t kill anyone or burn the building down!
Use those questions to help you to avoid self-criticism, and couple that with your acceptance and celebration of being perfectly imperfect from week 1, and see how much better you start to feel about things. And don’t blame me when you start to find you are becoming even more effective and efficient in what you are doing as a result!