It’s me who is my enemy
Me who beats me up
Me who makes the monsters
Me who strips my confidence.
– Paula Cole
For the past few weeks, I’ve been paying more attention to how I’ve been talking to myself. So often, we treat our thoughts like white noise, like the hum of an air conditioner or that artificial noise that’s pumped into a corporate office building. The only problem is that, unlike white noise, these thoughts can cause unrepairable damage if not addressed. Here are a few of my lowlights:
You ate more than you planned. You are fat.
You were completely lost in that meeting. You are dumb.
You didn’t get a full workout in. You are undisciplined.
You get the picture. Why are we so hard on ourselves? We treat friends, family and even strangers so much better than we treat ourselves. Is it because of high personal goals or expectations? Are we trying to prove something to others? Maybe it’s a little bit of both.
Authors Steven Pressfield and Seth Godin talk about this prehistoric part of our brain, calling it the resistance or lizard brain. It’s the part of our brain that keeps us safe by preventing us from walking down a dangerous dark alley. Ironically, this same safety mechanism also kicks in by killing our confidence and self-esteem whenever we try something that puts us outside of our comfort zone – a perceived threat of danger. The lizard brain likes homeostasis and will punish you with a “told you so” whenever you make a mistake or fall short.
For the next few days, pay attention to your own self-talk. You’ll be surprised at how many negative thoughts cross your mind. Only by keeping these thoughts in check can we hope to prevent them from quietly killing our spirit, goals, and dreams. Remember:
There is no such thing as perfection: Everyone has flaws. Everyone makes mistakes. You are no different. In fact, if you aren’t making mistakes, that probably means you aren’t really trying or putting much effort into anything you do (see Thomas Edison and Abraham Lincoln).
Stop judging: There’s a difference between being honest and being cruel. Did you gain ten pounds? Blow that major presentation? Stick your foot in your mouth? Acknowledge your mistake, learn from it, and move on. Your mistake, no matter how much your lizard brain tells you, will not affect your future success.
Be compassionate: If your kid spills his glass of milk or fails his spelling test, you (hopefully) are not going to start yelling at him, calling him stupid and incompetent. So why should you treat yourself any differently? Take a step back and be kind to yourself. If you have to, give yourself an admonishment (“I didn’t prepare very well for that presentation. Maybe I shouldn’t have stayed up late to watch that ‘Walking Dead’ marathon.”) and then make a plan to do better next time.
Finally, appreciate what was good. I missed today’s workout but I did make it into the gym four other times this week. My presentation didn’t go that well but I did finish two other projects this week. Yeah, I had that extra piece of pie but almost all of my meals this week were nutritious and good for me.
So the next time you feel yourself grabbing the hammer, just say “Stop!” Make it a habit of cutting these thoughts down and replacing them with words and thoughts that move you closer to where you want to go.
What were some of the things you’ve said to yourself today?