You are your own worst enemy. As much as we complain about horrible bosses, being overworked and underpaid, and not being given new learning opportunities at work, more often than not, the biggest obstacle that lies on our paths to success is ourselves. More specifically, it’s that little voice in the back of your head that’s the most negative thing you’ve ever come across.
When you want to try new things and learn new skills, it tells you it’s pointless since there’s always going to be someone better than you.
When you want to buckle down and start improving your performance, it tells you you’re not capable of doing it.
When you want to ask for stretch assignments to prove your worth, it tells you you shouldn’t take the risk of botching the whole thing.
Our innermost critics are often are harshest critics, and moving forwards at work and in life necessitates that we learn how to engage with this inner critic in the best possible way.
Ultimately, being over-critical of yourself is like tying yourself to a pole with a thick rope, and then trying to walk away from the rope while still being tied to it. In other words, it’s self-sabotage; we need to learn to stop being over-critical of ourselves. Here’s how.
P.S. Master the art of emotional self-management with SSA Academy’s WSQ course on applying emotional competence to manage yourself at work!
You don’t have to be a die-hard Potterhead to understand this quote from Albus Dumbledore: “Understanding is the first step to acceptance, and only with acceptance can there be recovery.”
It’s not enough to simply recognise that you’re too being too hard on yourself, although this alone is hard enough for some people. What’s harder still is leveraging your emotional self-awareness to delve deep within and try to understand your own psychological mechanisms for self-criticism.
Where does all that negativity come from? For example, do you feel as though you have something to prove to the world, as so many people often do? Or is it that you don’t have a good opinion of yourself, so you overcompensate by being extremely hard on yourself? It may even be perfectionism, which, despite being a much lauded trait
Whatever the reason may be, different causes call for different methods of treatment. You know yourself best: allow yourself the freedom to be completely honest about how you see yourself, and pinpoint the proximate cause of your deep self-criticism.
Otherwise, it’s also helpful to ask your closest friends and family to evaluate you in this regard; sometimes you can’t see things clearly because you’re standing in your own way.
The thing about negative thoughts is that they can be very addictive. Once you start having one negative thought, it leads to another, and another, and another. While self-criticism can be useful in helping you identify your areas for improvement, it can also be harmful when it quickly devolves into a slew of negative thoughts invading your mind to the point of paralysis.
Learning to differentiate between productive self-criticism and its more indulgent, self-loathing form is critical. While the former is often based on real, objective facts and evidence, the latter is often couched in vagueness and tends to be unsubstantiated and unrealistic.
Once you feel the unproductive self-criticism coming on, dissociate yourself from it and focus your mental energy on creating something new instead of merely trying to fight away the negativity. Remember: the more you try to resist a thought, the more it backfires and starts to take root in your mind instead.
One of the most damaging ways of putting yourself down is to engage in a constant battle of self-comparisons with others. It’s a human tendency to want to compare your progress with others, and while it can invite a healthy amount of competition, the ubiquity of social media today amplifies this need to the point that it’s become a virtually all-consuming need.
Comparing other people’s highlight reels (which is essentially what social media allows most of us to do) with our own lives is always a losing battle; we always know the good and the bad about our own lives, but we only ever see the good of others’ lives.
Even offline, the propensity to compare yourself with others (and to subsequently pity yourself) at work can be pretty salient. As much as it’s hard to do this in situations where you’re competing with your co-workers, it’s imperative that you judge your progress only against the yardstick of what you accomplished before (and what others have accomplished before.)
Simply put, focus on your own journey instead of deliberately making yourself feel worthless by comparing yourself to others.