7 Ways to Be Kinder to Yourself
How to silence your inner critic and gain mental strength.
Posted Feb 23, 2015
The private conversations you have with yourself can be either a powerful stepping-stone or a major obstacle to reaching your goals. If your inner monologue repeats things like, “I’m going to embarrass myself,” or, “No one is going to talk to me,” as you walk you into a social gathering, you probably won’t appear relaxed and approachable. Or, if you’re thinking, “I’m never going to get this job,” in the middle of an interview, you’ll struggle to present yourself in a confident manner. Often, those negative predictions can quickly turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Your thoughts greatly influence how you feel and behave, which is why negative self-talk can be downright self-destructive. Telling yourself that you’ll never be successful, or that you aren’t as good as other people, will reduce your feelings of self-worth and deter you from facing your fears. Constantly putting yourself down and beating yourself up makes it impossible to be mentally strong.
If you tend to be overly critical of yourself, you’re not alone: Most people experience self-doubt and harsh self-reflections at one time or another. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a victim of your own verbal abuse. Instead, take steps to proactively address negative thoughts and launch a more productive dialog with yourself.
Here are seven ways to tame your inner critic:
1. Develop an awareness of your thoughts. We get so used to hearing our own narrations that it’s easy to become oblivious to the messages we’re sending ourselves. Pay attention to what you’re thinking about and recognize that just because you think something, doesn’t mean it’s true. Our thoughts are often exaggerated, biased, and disproportionate.
2. Stop ruminating. When you make a mistake or you’ve had a bad day, you may be tempted to replay the events over and over in your head. But repeatedly reminding yourself of an embarrassing thing you did, or a questionable thing you said, will only make you feel worse—and it won’t solve the problem. When you find yourself ruminating—and not problem-solving—don’t waste time telling yourself, “Don’t think about that.” The more you try to avoid thinking about something, the more you’re likely to focus on it. Instead, distract yourself with an activity—going for a walk, organizing your desk, or talking about a completely different subject—and stop the critical thoughts before they spiral out of control.
3. Ask yourself what advice you’d give a friend. If a friend expressed feelings of self-doubt, it's unlikely you'd say, “You can’t ever do anything right,” or, “You’re so stupid. No one likes you.” Hopefully you’d offer compassionate words of encouragement, like, “You made a mistake but it’s not the end of the world,” or “It’s unlikely that today’s performance will actually get you fired.” Treat yourself as kindly as you’d treat a friend, and apply those words of encouragement to your life.
4. Examine the evidence. Learn to recognize when your critical thoughts are exaggeratedly negative. If you think, “I’m never going to be able to quit my job and run my own business,” examine the evidence that supports and refutes this prediction. Sometimes it’s helpful to write it down. Draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper. On one side, list all the evidence that supports your thought. On the other, write down all the evidence to the contrary. Looking at evidence on both sides of the argument can help you look at a situation more rationally and less emotionally.
5. Replace overly critical thoughts with more accurate statements. Convert an overly pessimistic thought to a more rational and realistic statement. When you find yourself thinking, “I never do anything right,” replace it with a balanced statement like, “Sometimes I do things really well and sometimes I don’t.” Each time you find yourself thinking an exaggeratedly negative thought, respond with the more accurate statement.
6. Consider how bad it would be if your thoughts were true. Sometimes it’s tempting to envision a mishap turning into a complete catastrophe. But often, the worst-case scenario really isn’t as bad as we might imagine. For example, if you predict that you’re going to embarrass yourself when you give a presentation, ask yourself how bad would that actually be? If you did embarrass yourself, would you be able to recover or do think it would it end your career? Reminding yourself that you can handle tough times or problems increases your confidence and decreases the constant barrage of worrisome thoughts.
7. Balance acceptance with self-improvement. There’s a difference between always telling yourself that you’re not good enough and reminding yourself that you can work to become better. Accept your flaws for what they are today, but resign to work on the issues you want to address. Although it sounds counterintuitive, you can do both at the same time. You can accept that you experience anxiety in social situations, while also making a decision to become more comfortable with public speaking. Accepting your weaknesses for what they are today doesn’t mean you have to stay that way. Acknowledge that you have flaws but determine to remain a work in progress as you strive to become better.
The Power of Your Inner Dialogue
While your inner critic can help you recognize areas where you want to improve, overly harsh negative self-talk will cause your performance to suffer and reduce the chances that you’ll reach your goals. Practice taming your inner critic and silencing the negativity so you can coach yourself in a productive and helpful manner. Learning how to have productive conversations with yourself is one of the best ways to develop mental strength.
Amy Morin is a psychotherapist and the author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do.