If You’re Always Hard on Yourself, Read This

You might have plenty of good reasons to expect more of yourself; you might be proud of your high standards. But when high standards start making you feel bad about yourself, it might be time to rethink your position.

Let’s talk about how your high standards and the self-talk that goes with them might actually be hurting your performance. That voice in your head telling you you’re not as good as you think you are is not your friend. Unless it is: maybe your best friend Jessica from eighth grade who always seemed to make you feel bad as she praised you. “Don’t worry – nobody will be looking at you at the dance, so they won’t notice that your dress if getting too small for you.” “New haircut? I love it that you’re finally starting to care about how it looks.”

Maybe it’s your critical mom’s voice you hear, or your first boss’s, telling you you’re not your sister or not management material. The voices might try to convince you that they’re here to keep you from failing. But they’re also keeping you from succeeding. If you’re focused on what bad things might happen, it’s hard to work on what can happen.

Even if you’ve actually screwed up: made a big mistake at work, said the wrong thing or done something you’re not proud of, self-love and self-compassion can keep shame from setting in and derailing your ability to move on. Susan David, author of Emotional Agility, says, “Yes, you did something wrong. Yes, you feel bad about it, because, hey, you should. Maybe you even did something really wrong. Even so, this transgression does not make you an irredeemably awful human being. You can make amends, apologize, and get to work your debt to society, whether that means sending flowers or serving time. You can strive to learn from your mistakes and do better in the future. Self-compassion is the antidote to shame.”

And, she says, in case you’re wondering if showing yourself some compassion is just an excuse to go soft on yourself, don’t worry about it. “Self-compassion is not about lying to yourself,” she writes.  “In fact, it’s the opposite. It means looking at yourself from an outside perspective: a broad and inclusive view that doesn’t deny reality but instead recognizes your challenges and failures as part of being human.”

“Treating yourself with compassion is, in fact, at odds with deceiving yourself. You can’t have real self-compassion without first facing the truth about who you are and what you feel. It’s when we lack compassion that we’re more likely to develop false bravado and grandiose overconfidence in an effort to deny the possibility of failure. When we lack compassion, we see the world as just as unforgiving as we are, so the very idea of failure is crippling.”

If the idea of failure is terrifying to you, it will be hard for you to take risks, maybe even impossible. That means you won’t be able to reach your full potential. Being hard on yourself can, ironically, make it harder to succeed.

We’ve made toughness into a virtue, but it’s not. Especially if you’re being tough on yourself. Give yourself a much-needed break.

2 thoughts on “If You’re Always Hard on Yourself, Read This

  1. Thank you for reminding me of Stuart Smalley, the great Saturday Night Live legend. You might want to read his 1992 novel: “I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!: Daily Affirmations with Stuart Smalley.” There is also an audio book called: “You’re Good Enough, You’re Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like You.” It’s said the audio book is different from the novel. So, you can double your pleasure with both. There’s more—a movie—but I will skip it. I hope Susan David references Stuart Smalley in her work. Now, look in the mirror and repeat after Stuart Smalley… 🙂


    1. I loved Stuart Smalley – thanks for the reminder!


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