There's a deeply entrenched belief that you need to be self-critical if you want to work hard or do well. That you have to suffer to succeed and without self-criticism you might become complacent or put in less effort.
In my work as a Clinical Psychologist I've noticed these ideas are some of the hardest to shift. Yet I'm yet to find any evidence in my clinical work that backs this up. In fact, I'd go as far as to say constantly criticising yourself has the opposite effect.
Having a constant internal negative commentary has a negative impact on your mood and paves the way for anxiety, low mood and low self-esteem. A study in the Wall Street Journal reported that those who were most self critical were also more likely to be depressed and have relationship difficulties.
Look at it this way; if you were in training for a marathon and choosing a coach - which one would you go for if you wanted to get the best results?
Coach A yells at you during every training session, telling you you're lazy, useless, rubbish and a waste of space and time. That you'll never complete a marathon, won't succeed, let alone achieve anything and she's not sure why you're even bothering. She rings you up and texts you between sessions to say how disappointed she is in you.
Coach B welcomes you to training and tells you she's looking forward to working with you today. She describes all that she's noticed you improving on areas of strength and areas that you still need to work on. Pointing out that it's normal not to find every area easy and that some parts of what you're doing will be more challenging. She helps you look at your strengths to see how you can use them in other areas and encourages you to look at what you're struggling with and work on a different approach. She rings you up and texts you between sessions to say keep it up, you're doing well and to reassure you.
Which coach would you choose? I feel stressed just thinking about coach A. I'd rather hide in bed than turn up to a training session with her. Coach B on the other hand makes me want to try my best and work harder. She inspires confidence and I feel warm just thinking about her belief in me.
Coach A, of course, embodies self-criticism. It's easy to see that it demotivates you (sometimes to the point of paralysis). Rather than being motivational, it leaves you feeling awful about yourself. It's also obvious that this person is a bully and gives you no hope of reaching your goals.
Even though self-criticism is your own internal voice, rather than an external person, the result is exactly the same. Ask yourself, are these really the ingredients of success? If we take it a step further and question why you want to succeed (to feel good, to be happy, to gain confidence) is it serving it's purpose?
Coach B is the compassionate approach. Compassion doesn't mean only focusing on what's going well and ignoring your faults, but seeing specific examples of your strengths and progress, as well as identifying where to improve. Coming up with a concrete plan of how to achieve your goal and recognising that no-one is perfect.
Compassion doesn't mean just being positive or letting yourself off the hook, it means being strong, non-judgemental and kind. Think brave, warm, fair and wise - these are core ingredients for feeling good about yourself and are so important if you want to reach your goals.
Next time you're considering criticising yourself, why not try working with Coach B and take the compassionate approach instead:
- What am I doing well - spend time thinking about why this is
- How can I use these strengths in other areas of my life?
- What do I need to work on?
- How can I improve in these areas?
- Is there anyone else who can help me?
- What else do I need to do to ensure I reach my goals?
- Encourage yourself (it may feel a bit weird at first!)
To celebrate International Day of Happiness on 20th March Dr Jessamy is running a free 5 day Happiness Challenge. Every day at 9am you'll receive an exercise, which will outline your task for the day. It's a crash course in understanding your mind + a strategy every day to boost your mood. All the strategies are evidence based, which means they are proven work. To take part you can sign up here
To read more tips and strategies to feel good visit DrJessamy.com
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This blog was originally written for Dr Brooke Stemm