Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love,
shared in a speech that no matter how charmed her life looks, every day she falls short of what she had hoped to accomplish. Then she has to consciously stop her brain
from beating herself up for her shortcomings.
She ended by telling us to “Let go of the knife you are holding at your throat, the knife of shame, blame, fear and remorse.”
There was a long, deathly silence as her words hit home.
“Be kind to yourself,” she implored, “especially now. You must give yourself unconditional self-friendship.”
The room burst with applause. Gilbert had shared a simple truth we need to hear over and over again.
How much time do you spend comparing yourself to others, to the successes in your past, and to the dreams that never came true? Is there a way you can stop?
The answer is no, you probably can’t stop comparing yourself to others and who you used to be.
What you can do is catch yourself in the process and either talk yourself into thinking differently or shift your focus so you feel differently.
From my work in emotional intelligence, I believe that the best thing you can do is catch yourself when you are
- Angry about someone else’s success
- Embarrassed or ashamed about not succeeding or achieving more
- Distressed or unhappy when dwelling on your inadequacies
- Resigning yourself to being less worthy
- Hating the world that gives others advantages over you.
What do you think you should have at this moment that is missing or not recognized by others? Your emotions are generally triggered when you feel the need to protect something important to you or you feel something important has been taken away, such as respect, achievement, significance, or feeling needed, valued or heard.
- What do you think you deserve that you aren’t getting?
- What are you afraid you will never achieve?
- What decisions in your life are you blaming for your present circumstances?
The first step is to try to understand your reaction instead of beating yourself up for having it. You can read more about emotional triggers in this excerpt from my book, Outsmart Your Brain.
Now ask yourself what is in your control to change? Are you willing to make the changes? If not, then do what you can to let go and move on.
Another technique is to put yourself in observation mode. I often say to myself, “Oh look, there I am being angry again because someone else got more acknowledgment than I did” or “Look at me focusing on my fat.” From this perspective you can better analyze the source of your emotions instead of being sucked into judgment.
Warm up your body with positive emotions. The dopamine and serotonin released when feeling happy, grateful, proud, excited, or compassionate can shift your opinions as well as your spirit. You feel better physically which leads to feeling better about yourself. Have you ever been angry with someone who then made you laugh? Bet you couldn’t stay angry. The next time you catch yourself berating your choices, try laughing at yourself instead.
Use your memory to help you shift. Recall someone who inspired you to change your life. Remember your favorite place on the planet or a heart-felt moment. Think back to a time you made a courageous choice. Allow the memory to sink into your heart until you feel it warm and full. If you have a photograh that triggers this recollection, carry it with you to help you make the shift.
Try to live by your highest values. What is most important to you? When you worry about what others think, you are judging yourself against their values. Instead, discover what is most important to you and have the courage to stay on that path. Be kind to yourself if you get distracted. Then reset your goals to stay true to who you are when you are doing what makes you feel fulfilled.
One last note: the longer you stay in a job, career, lifestyle or location, the more likely you are to judge anything that threatens your stability as dangerous. If recognition is important to you, you will negatively judge anyone you think will get more attention or more opportunities than you in the territory you think you own. You will be wracked with jealousy for those who outdo you. You will beat yourself up for not earning the same or better rewards as your peers.
According to psychologist Dean Simonton, people who change their career focus, locations, and lifestyles actually stimulate the brain to change. They have less to protect. They experience humility. And, people who change things in their lives are less likely to judge others negatively while they quit expecting perfection from themselves.
Dr. Robert Sapolsky said, “An open mind is a prerequisite to an open heart.” If you feel more curiosity and kindness toward others, you might extend the same sentiments toward yourself.
Let go of the knife you hold to your throat. Remember you are a human doing your best. Forgive yourself. Then find the work that helps you to feel valued so you have less time and energy to worry about being good enough.
 From The Great Courses, Being Human: Lessons from the Frontiers of Science, Lesson 12, Sushi and Middle Age. Lecturer: Robert Sapolsky, PhD, Stanford University. Dr. Sapolsky also provides more information on Dean Simonton's work on change in this lecture.