Many of us are overly critical of ourselves. Some of us are hypervigilant about what we ‘should’ and ‘should not’ do to the point that any deviation from our plan is seen as a total failure. It’s an all or nothing stance to achieving our goals and it actually works against our odds of success. (if you are a self proclaimed slacker, check than this doesn’t apply to you!)
A good example of this issue is the dieter who slips up. Maybe she has vowed to cut out sugar and then eats one of the cookies a co-worker brought into the office. Rather than letting it go and going back to her commitment, she proceeds to beat herself up with abusive self talk and by the end of the day is eating an entire cake by herself.
Her self criticism actually signaled the “what the hell” response. “What the hell, I’ve blown my diet. I might as well enjoy myself and eat whatever I want.” Sound familiar?
Science has actually studied this behavior and proven that the more critical you are of yourself, the more likely you are to fail at the very thing you are bullying yourself into doing. Instead of course correcting, you actually go further off the rails. In other words, if you want to spend less but berate yourself when the credit card bills arrive, you are more likely to go out and spend more money. If you are determined to cut back on sugar, but slip up with a piece of candy, you are more likely to eat more sugar for the rest of the day. If you have promised to keep in touch more regularly and notice you have fallen short of that promise, if you beat yourself up about it, you are more likely to isolate yourself further in response to your inner critic.
Bullying and tyranny never create the positive outcomes we want. And the worse the self criticism is, the more likely we will fail.
How do you get back on track?
Self supportive inner talk. This approach actually does make us more likely to succeed. Again, there is science to back this up. Being self compassionate when you slip up actually helps ignite your “will power instinct” which we all have. It’s hardwired into our brains. We all worked at eating, walking, speaking, etc until we succeeded. We needed to succeed at these things for our survival. I have several Pilates clients who have severe genetic abnormalities that make walking a true challenge. But, they have found their way of walking so they can get from point A to point B. They didn’t give up. We all have a primal instinct to survive.
So how do we “trigger” this instinct when we are faced with the temptation to throw in the towel and say “what the heck?” By learning and practicing self compassionate support.
What would you say to a friend who blew their diet? “You are a total failure and are destined to be fat for the rest of your life!” are not likely the words you would use! You’d probably say something like, “let it go, move on…we all have bad days. Just start again.” No doubt, you would be supportive.
For those of us who have lived with our self judging self talk for many years, we will find this approach to our mistakes rather strange. It might even cause anxiety for some of us. Journalling can be a very helpful tool to help with this. Write out all your judgments, criticisms, and self shaming words. Then, imagine being a supportive friend to yourself. Write out those supportive responses. For example: “I blew it again! I’m a total failure!” can be responded to by saying, “Welcome to the human race!…we all make mistakes. It’s not the end of the world just start again.” Also, take the time to really look at those harsh words you used on yourself. Would you EVER say those things to another person? No. The truth is, your inner thoughts are skewed and you need to retrain your brain to support you properly.
If you really want to create those changes and achieve your goals, you have to learn to manage your self talk. Because if you punish yourself harshly when slipping up, you are setting yourself up to fail. Period.
Start keeping a journal. When you can, write down what that voice is saying to you in your head. Then, rewrite it in the voice and with the words of a supportive friend. Notice how you are able to “bounce back” from the slip ups when you are feeling safe and supported. Stick with this. The more you do this with the harsh thoughts, the easier it gets to then turn them into supportive thoughts.
If you need help with your inner critic, get in touch and we’ll tackle it together.