Generally, I think of myself as someone kind to herself. I am good to my body by exercising regularly and getting monthly deep tissue massages which keep me healthy enough to run competitively. I enjoy eating healthy foods (and some not so healthy treats, too).
I don’t have to work as hard daily to be kind to my psyche. I don’t usually have a mean tape rolling in my head about myself. I do have things I know I am not great at and when I am frustrated, I will put myself down, which often leads to more mistakes. Those mistakes then reinforce my negative perceptions of my skills.
Recently, my coworker Keila caught me mid putdown and challenged me to rethink where I was placing my mental energy. She caught me before I really set the table to make a big mess of a tedious afternoon of creating spreadsheets. I am grateful to work with people who call me on this negative language. I would never talk to a friend the way I sometimes talk to myself. And I don’t have any problem calling a friend out for negative self-talk.
Sometimes we aren’t even aware of when we are being unkind to ourselves. We’ve been buying these negative thoughts and reinforcing them for so long that when we find evidence to dispute the negatives, we are doubtful and have trouble accepting it. No one is great at everything and it is helpful to have an awareness of our areas for potential growth. However, if you’re like me and you don’t like being less skilled at things and that leads to frustration when mistakes are made which leads to self-defeating statements which leads to more mistakes which leads to a cemented negative view of an area of potential growth, well that’s a problem. This becomes even more troubling if it leads to a refusal to try new things.
There can be a fine line between being self-aware and getting stuck believing that you just can’t do something well.
It can be an interesting experiment to catch yourself in the negative talk and replace it with a healthier, yet honest statement and then proceed with whatever you’re trying to accomplish. You may or may not have greater success this attempt, but if you continue to catch and replace those thoughts, you at least will feel different about yourself and your ability to keep trying.
How many of our greatest inventors failed countless times before they achieved great and often unexpected success? Their ability to tolerate the ambiguity of not knowing how to do something, keep an open mind and flow with creativity instead of negativity separates them from us.
Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Isn’t that a great statement! How can we be that tolerant with ourselves? Better yet, how can we embrace an uncomfortable process? Is it reasonable to think, “bring it on, I’m bound to learn something from trying again”? Essentially, this is accepting failure as a process. We know we will be stronger, wiser and better off once we allow ourselves to try.
So each time you struggle, fail to achieve an expected outcome or are just stumped, don’t chew yourself up. Think, “aha, this is an opportunity to learn and grow!”
Developing this mental flexibility also allows you a quicker rebound when really bad things come your way. Of course, you will feel sad, angry and overwhelmed in the face of loss, pain and struggle. But you can also feel love, joy and gratitude for the growth that comes from living through difficulty.
Practice, practice, practice. Setting the intention to love your whole self—for your talents and for your areas of growth also creates space to love everyone around you in all of their perfect imperfection. You may be way ahead on that one—loving everyone else despite their faults, but not providing yourself the same grace. Well, just ask yourself how you’d treat those other folks and then treat yourself the same when your own faults present themselves. You know they will!
And, finally, learn to accept the love that comes your way. You know those people who really know you—the good, bad and ugly you? And they love you? Keep them around. Accept their love. Love them back. Treat yourself the way they treat you.