We can all be hard on ourselves at times, beating ourselves up about the mistakes we make in life. This attitude doesn’t help us in the least and mostly serves to make us feel worse about things that we already feel bad about. It’s a tough habit to break but there are things that I’ve found that really help to break this cycle and help me stop being so self-critical. Here are seven things that have helped me stop self-criticism, perhaps they can help you too:
1/ Be your own best friend
When that voice in your head starts being hard on you for not being good enough or for making mistakes, the first thing to do is to notice it and take a pause for a moment. Take a deep breath and imagine that you’re talking to your best friend or someone else you truly love. Think about how you’d speak to them, what tone of voice you’d use, and how you’d support them if they were feeling bad about something in life. Now use that voice and tone to talk to yourself instead of being unkind and critical. It can take a while to consistently notice and change your inner voice to a friendly supportive tone but, with practice, it can really help.
2/ Build self-confidence
Although certainly easier said than done, building self-confidence will definitely help to break the habit of self-criticism, and there are lots of small things you can do to achieve this. Confidence in yourself is built on the foundation of knowing yourself, your beliefs and your strengths. Take time to think about who you truly are, perhaps by making a list of your strengths and of your most strongly held beliefs. Keep this list somewhere you can see it, to remind yourself of your core values and attributes. When you feel defeated or are facing a difficult challenge, refer to it and visualise your strengths in the face of adversity. Instead of beating yourself up, remind yourself that everyone has hard times and we all make mistakes. No one is perfect and we can’t be good at everything in life, but remember that you are resilient and flexible, valuable and strong. You’ll come back fighting, knowing that you have the strength and confidence to keep on trying.
3/ Practice positive reinforcement
Praising yourself for your achievements, also known as positive reinforcement, is a powerful way to lose the habit of self-criticism. Take a few minutes every day to sit down and think about the things you have achieved. Write a small list of even relatively mundane achievements such as cooking a good meal, being supportive to a friend, getting the shopping, cleaning a room of the house or going for a walk. We all have different challenges so these achievements will be relative to your health, fitness and life situation. Praise yourself for big things and small. This will help to balance out the self-criticism and help you to notice that you’re actually doing a great job.
4/ Avoid the word ‘should’
When we use the word ‘should’ regarding something we may or may not do, it implies a sense of duty but also a sense of guilt if we don’t succeed in doing it. When you say to yourself ‘I should exercise more’ you’ve already built in a form of self-criticism before you even begin. Try changing these types of phrases, aloud and in your head, to ‘could’. This implies the possibility of doing something, an opportunity, but in no way gives a negative or self-berating tone. ‘I could exercise more’ gives you the choice and sets you off on the right foot for success. If you don’t end up doing it, be kind to yourself and try again another day.
5/ Try to be more optimistic
It’s not always easy but optimism can be developed, nurtured and created, changing mental habits to foster a rosier outlook even in gloomy times. When you don’t get what you originally wanted, try looking at the situation with fresh eyes and find a positive within it all. Sometimes you may not meet your goal but you attain some other benefit or self-improvement along the way. This can be as simple as learning how not to do something! Try to laugh or smile at small difficulties or mistakes, look on the brighter side and not take it all too seriously.
6/ Forgive yourself
This is a very powerful thing to do, and forgiving yourself is something we should all do more often. When we make a mistake or fail at an endeavor, we should immediately tell ourselves that we did our best and that we are forgiven. Simply repeating a short affirmation such as ‘I forgive myself everything’ can help us to move on from mistakes and failures.
7/ Learn from everything you do
When things don’t go your way, your impulse can be to feel guilty and analyze what you did wrong. How about stopping, taking a breath and then thinking about what you can learn? Consider what you can take from the experience, and what valuable knowledge there is within the situation that you can take forwards with you. We are all learning every single day of our lives so don’t waste time with guilt, just find the nuggets of wisdom that are there for the taking and feel thankful for them.
Self-criticism, or “beating yourself up”, is a habit that many of us fall into without even realizing, but like all habits, it can be gradually unlearned and replaced with healthier life-affirming thought processes. Try some of my tips and techniques listed above regularly to encourage a kinder inner voice and better self-love. I hope they help you find some peace with a gentler inner critic.