How to stop being too hard on yourself.
(especially if you think you’re not)
You might remember my recent post on my reaction to a bunch of strangers — people unfamiliar to me — over the course of the past couple of years, telling me that I’m too hard on myself.
If you haven’t read it — I can sum it up like this: I laugh — then I cry.
Because I’ve got no idea what that means or how to stop it.
Having been myself for my whole life, I’ve got pretty (neurologically) fixed ideas on how to do things, and even though I know the theory, I still keep playing out the same patterns.
I’m up for learning — of course — I’m obsessed with personal development, yoga, and how to change habits — particularly, for example, negative thinking.
But because I haven’t reached all my health, weight, fitness, professional, business, travel, financial and personal goals yet, I’ve very clearly got a lot more work to do.
It feels like a pretty robust conclusion, then, that the reason I haven’t reached all these goals is because I’m not nearly hard enough on myself.
So this in itself explains why I experience Overachiever Syndrome.
Chronic goal setting, chronic anxiety, stress and overthinking, and chronic disappointment when you never quite reach those impossibly high standards.
If you know what I’m talking about, maybe you also know it’s not the best strategy for contentment and emotional wellbeing — but the question remains the same, how else are you going to achieve all those goals?
How can you not be hard on yourself, and still maintain your values?
It was a recent conversation with my sister that really allowed me a different perspective.
She knows me. She comes from the same gene stock as me, we’ve shared our childhood together, and into adulthood, we’ve remained close.
We’ve done all the diets, dabbled with veganism, we both have our own ethical standards, we practice the same kind of yoga, together we’ve raised tens of thousands of pounds for charity, and we’ve also trained for and completed a marathon, together. In the Arctic.
Together, we’ve been shedding blood, sweat and tears for a long time.
Some of these mountains we’ve climbed have been pretty steep. Some of the things that we choose to do aren’t for the faint hearted.
Perhaps we do push ourselves quite hard.
The interesting bit is that my sister, of course, disagrees with this. (Oh, aren’t siblings great). She says she’s not too hard on herself, and she doesn’t think I’m too hard on myself either.
This way, we both strive to work harder.
This is because, to us, the opposite of being too hard on yourself equates to rolling over and compromising on your standards.
Hold up here. This is serious — I can’t relax my values. I just can’t do it, and that’s the bit that doesn’t make sense to me.
Abandoning my values isn’t acceptable.
It’s bad enough my family call it the Faileo Diet in testament to how many times I’ve fallen off the wagon.
So is there any other way?
That’s what I’ve been toying with for the past few weeks.
And the conclusion I reached is that it’s not about letting yourself off the hook.
The opposite of “being too hard on yourself” is not “let go of everything and run off into the sunset and a life of hedonism.”
In fact, as counterintuitive as it seems, it strikes me that the answer actually is to open up to more joy in life.
Now. If you’re thinking this makes zero sense, I get it. The link is so tenuous that I completely forget it most of the time — I got to this point while I was drafting this post, and I couldn’t remember it whatsoever. I was stumped.
I am writing this post to permanently remind myself.
Joy isn’t theme parks, or swimming in the ocean, or dancing naked and hugging all the trees. (Or suddenly buying up all the palm oil products just because you want a biscuit.)
It’s not about what you do, it’s about how you view what you do.
For example, enjoying your task, your mission, your journey — where previously you’d have been in a negative, self deprecating, frame of mind.
Viewing your choices and decisions as joyful, finding the joy behind why you do you — this makes space for creativity, and fun, and releases tight, trapped, negative energy.
Then use this energy for more positive action — rather than going back and reprimanding yourself.
This way is a world away from my previous MO, which had me stuck in the loop of self-punishment.
But it doesn’t quite stop there.
It’s also interesting to know where the “hard on yourself” story came from in the first place.
I recently identified a phrase my inner critic uses all the time :
“You never do anything right”
With that playing on repeat, it’s no wonder I strive so hard to please it, prove it wrong, to do the right thing.
We are a society of people pleasers — it’s bred into us. It makes us feel morally compelled and internally driven, to “do things right”.
But as in the way of Buddhism, what if you let go of what is “right,” and simply do what is beautiful?
As Thich Nhat Hanh says:
“Right and wrong are neither moral judgments nor arbitrary standards from outside. Through our own awareness, we discover what is beneficial (“right”) and what is unbeneficial (“wrong”).”
What if you just accept that you’re beautiful as you are?
That you’re doing your best — and you do your best not because you are under strict orders from your inner critic, but because you love the choices that you make?
When I am able to quieten the voice that tells me that I can’t do anything right, I find it much easier to do the things I need to do in the first place.
Anything from going for a run, cleaning the house, raising money for charity, writing, or even the eat-the-frog task in my business.
Rather than doing them from a place of “having to be a good person who does the right things”, I can just do them.
Here’s one consequence of that.
Where previously a great deal of my energy was taken up with obsessing over moral judgement, what I “ought” to do, and what other people might think, this way I can just get on with things, and experience deep joy, and do a lot more of it.
Being right doesn’t matter. Doing the “right thing” is an extremely heavy cross to bear.
Doing what you do just because you enjoy it — that’s actually fun. That’s beautiful.
And it makes everything a lot more achievable.
It’s much more sustainable in the long run too — and a more inviting way to perhaps influence other people’s decision making too, to make the world a better place.
The goal is still the same. But now I go at it from a place of joy.
And all this came from of a sibling disagreement.
Where once I would have sat and stewed and replayed it ad nauseam, this time I took a step back, put on my proverbial joy goggles, and realised this truth that was there all along.
The answer to this conundrum is simply joy.
Dial it up.