When we want to make changes in our lives, it’s usually the mental barriers that keep us stuck in old habits. You do not have angry outbursts, poor health habits, or smoke cigarettes because “that’s just who you are.” It’s so much deeper than that. If you’re feeling powerless to problematic habits and crushing self talk, this article is for you.
“I’m so shy. It’s so embarrassing that I can’t make friends as easy as other people.”
“I am so stupid. I can’t do X, Y, and Z.”
“Whenever I get mad, I break things in my house. I lose my temper so often that I’m starting to worry the people around me.”
“I can’t stop eating junk food no matter how hard I try. It’s really frustrating because I can’t lose the weight I’ve been trying to get rid of.”
Any of these sound familiar? Our inner critic can be tougher at times than some of friends, family, and bosses combined. If you are currently trying to break a habit or change something about you or your life, this post is for you! Here are some self compassion practices to establish change in a positive way.
1. Remember that putting pressure on yourself to act/behave in a certain way can be counter-productive. How much do you think people like Steven Spielberg, J.K. Rowling, and Steve Jobs would have achieved/or liked themselves if someone followed them around all day shouting unkind and discouraging words at them? “You should just quit!” “You’re never going to be good enough.” “You’re awful at X, Y, and Z.” On top of that, what if they ignored the positive feedback they received? I don’t think that they would reach the level of success and fulfillment they have today if this were the case. Negative self talk and pressure can have pretty serious consequences. Is your inner critic doing more harm then good? Is it making you unconfident, insecure, self-sabotaging, etc?
2. Remember the origin of this behavior/habit/component of your personality. Chances are, you have established this thing you want to change as a coping mechanism or survival strategy. This is a critical component to understanding why you do what you do. For example:
A person distances themselves from romantic partner as a way to maintain emotional safety during a fight. As a child, that person experienced an overly critical caregiver and would emotionally and physically withdraw as a way to evade the negative feelings from their loved one when they sensed disapproval or rejection.
Someone who binge eats sugary sweets may be trying to fill an emotional void or satisfy boredom.
With this knowledge, we can give meaning to that behavior. This is an important process of normalizing the experience and taking control back with your newfound awareness.
3. Thank the behavior for the ‘positive’ things it gave you. Even something like being chronically late has it’s advantages, whether we realize it or not.
If you thought you were not a strong math student, the opinion could have been completely untrue; but it made you study harder or seek extra help. It also could ring true to the opposite; the phrase ‘I’m incompetent’ gave you a reason to make sense of the bad grade, even contributing to not putting in as much effort as you could have. It makes us more self-compassionate and understanding about why the behavior continued for so long.
4. Ask yourself this: Is this an opportunity for a reframe, rather than self-shame? In therapy, a reframe is pretty simple; it’s looking at the same situation/idea with a different perspective. Sometimes we are hard on ourselves for things that we actually shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves about. Sometimes there are things about ourselves that we can accept and embrace, rather than fight and reject. I found a really great list of reframed personality traits/behaviors on Pinterest and it was incredibly inspirational.
5. Remember that human personalities are not ‘fixed’ and programmed from birth. Remember that humans have an incredible capacity to change. We are constantly learning, growing, and changing. Even our cells are regenerated every seven years. We can’t always control how we think and feel, but we definitely can choose how we behave.
6. Look at how you talk about the problematic behavior… and Change it. (Replace the negative talk with positive phrases, add realistic, achievable goals in there when possible.)
“I’m so shy. It’s so embarrassing that I can’t make friends as easy as other people.” I would like to talk to more people next time I go out. Since I can be shy at times, I’ll have the ability to listen to others pretty well. The friendships I’ll make now will be special because I haven’t really put myself out there before.
“I talk way too much. I’m probably annoying the people I’m with.” I’m good at keeping a conversation going. I’ll make sure to keep awareness so that the other person in the conversation also has space in the conversation.
“I wish I wasn’t so late to everything. At this point, everyone in my life knows me for being chronically late.” Although it’s really nice to have an extra few minutes of sleep, I’ll try harder to be on time. Just because I’ve been late in the past doesn’t mean I won’t be on time in the future.
“I am so stupid. I can’t do X, Y, and Z.” X, Y, and Z is hard for me to understand. If I can’t do it, that is okay. It is only important that I try to the best of my ability.
7. Work with a trained therapist to help you gain insight into problematic behavior and help keep you accountable.
8. If the changes you want to make are related to your physical and mental health, work with a physician to make sure there are no biological factors negatively impacting your goals. Our inner critic can sometimes slow us down or prevent us from reaching out (minimizing the experience, doubting symptoms, etc.) If you are concerned about something you are experiencing, it is important to actively seek a supportive care network to help you be the healthiest version of yourself. As a form of self compassion, it’s important to validate your own feelings and be proactive with your health.