Why on earth would you want to be less tough on yourself?

I did a presentation on this at Roro Syd – these are the slides

When you make a mistake at work, in a social situation, with parenting, whatever, do you accept it and move on? Or do you beat yourself up about it?

Maybe you don’t even recognise that you’re being hard on yourself. You just think you’re showing self awareness and self-discipline. Maybe you think it’s normal to excessively dwell on mistakes you’ve made, and self-indulgent to go easy on yourself.

Maybe you believe that being hard on yourself makes you tougher, better, stronger?

In my quest to understand more about if being hard on myself was really a problem, I did a lot of reading and talking with people. I found research that showed people higher in self compassion typically possess better emotional health. This research showed that “They benefit from higher life satisfaction, and a lower risk of depression and anxiety.”

My immediate gut reaction to that was – big whoop! Emotionally healthy but totally terrible at everything they do! It’s so deeply ingrained in me. Being kind to yourself is weak. Being tough on yourself is the only way you’ll learn not to be so dumb.

People simply telling me that I was hard on myself was not encouraging me to change my ways, because I thought – why should I? What is the point? What are the benefits? I’ll just turn into a lazy slob.

(Is the fact that I think doing it for my mental health is not a good enough reason a bad indictment of my mental health?)

While researching and discussing potential reasons, I sometimes find myself being convinced to change my ways. But changing your mindset is a longer process, so I’m writing these reasons down for me to be able to refer back to when I forget (and also to share with all those people I had discussions about this with).

Legit Reasons to be Kinder to Yourself

It helps you cope better with life
That same research I linked above said that while people who are kinder to themselves have better emotional health and a sunnier outlook, they also cope better when bad things happen. Being kinder to yourself improves your resilience. I know I want to be the person who stays strong when the going gets tough! Beating up on myself is not going to get me there. It’s going to make me a more negative person (possible!?!?!), so that I’m more likely to give up, or miss opportunities that arise.

Being tough on yourself can be demoralising
In the short term, being hard on yourself can be motivating – but in the long term it can be demoralising.
Sure straight away you might be inspired to make changes and improvements, but with constant negative reinforcement that you’re never doing good enough, it can be demoralising and make you want to give up.

Being hard on yourself can drain the fun out of activities and make them seem like a chore.

It chips away at your confidence
It makes sense that being down on yourself all the time will hurt your confidence right? If you think you’re bad at everything, you’re confidence levels over time will drop, and you’ll be less likely to try in the future. When you’re too scared to try new things, your horizons will shrink. You’ll experience less and you’ll achieve less.

It can make you hate on things
Say you stuffed up at work today. You keep reliving it, kicking yourself for being so stupid. You go home, and keep thinking about it at night.

Say you did this with every mistake you made at work. Eventually you’re going to start thinking work is too hard. You’re no good at it. You’ll start dreading going in to work the next day. But guess what? You have to go to work!

The truth is, it’s probably not really the job you dread (or whatever activity it is you are dreading). What you are really dreading is the horrible feelings you get when you make a mistake. You are mentally cowering from the fallout of your potential future errors. But if you were kinder to yourself, more reasonable when you stuffed up, you wouldn’t have that fallout to dread. So you wouldn’t have to dread doing that activity.

If this activity is something you can opt out of, (unlike work), then reducing that feeling of dread means you are more likely to do that activity more often. And what comes out of doing things more often? You get better at them.

It’s a waste of time
Looking back on mistakes and figuring out how to try and learn from them in the future is fine. It’s when you dwell on them, going over and over them in your mind – that’s a waste of time. Who is benefiting from that? No one. And you could be doing much more productive things with those hours spent kicking yourself.

Figure out how to avoid the mistake or improve in the future. Then move on. Stop wasting time and mental real estate on things you can’t change.

The truth is, everyone makes mistakes. You’re always going to do something wrong, because you’re a human being. And until the robots exterminate us all and run a perfect planet, we’re all going to be running around making accidents and mistakes all the time.

Keep reading if you’re feeling convinced…

Now that we’ve discovered WHY we should be nice to ourselves, it’s very easy to find a million articles online about how to do this.

The following I have found particularly pertinent to me:

  • Say things to yourself more kindly. E.g. if you find your inner critic saying something mean, imagine how that would sound if you said it to your friend? Do unto yourself as you would do unto others!
  • Similarly, remember that you don’t expect others to be perfect, so why expect yourself to be?
  • Focus on how far you’ve come, not how far you’ve fallen short
  • Remember that where you are at (whatever skill), is not permanent. You’re always improving


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