I'm what you might call a reformed Type A personality. I spent my late teens and early 20s trying to be more and do more than everyone else in the room. I thought putting myself on this kind of infinite treadmill of achievement would bring me fulfillment (eventually).
During that time, no accomplishment ever felt like enough. I was totally maxed out on my course load in college, but getting B's on my transcript struck me as unacceptable. If I spent six days a week killing it at the gym, I'd feel like I had slacked on the seventh, no matter what.
There were certain "pros" to operating this way. I graduated in less than four years with two degrees, and with honors on top of it all. However, I was physically exhausted, emotionally and spiritually depleted, stressed out, unhappy and paralyzed by a constant fear of failing.
It was until I turned 25 and was halfway through a masters in accounting that I had a game-changing epiphany. My drive was fueled by insecurity-masked-as-ego, not passion. Even though I appeared successful, my path was unsuccessful because I was completely disengaged from my life.
It was a difficult decision, but I quit the masters program and returned to teaching fitness, which was a less stable, but much more rewarding career. Changing course ultimately led me to start a private practice using movement and manual therapy to help people heal from pain.
The good thing about self-criticism is that it can be alchemical: you can use it as an opportunity to recognize your negative energy as a learning experience, an invitation to cultivate self-love. Here's how I turned self-criticism into self-love. Try these three tips, and hopefully you'll be watching your own transformation before you know it.
1. Recognize the difference between self-loathing and discipline.
When we slip up, it's almost automatic that we allow our inner critic take over our mind, leading us to dwell in negative self-talk. But realize that this negativity is energy, and is not being spent toward productive goals. So instead of berating yourself, consider what you can learn from the experience. While a mistake can feel like a crisis, most of them are fixable and can teach you how to better handle similar situations in the future.
Of course, personal responsibility and discipline are important. If you owe someone an apology, do what you feel is necessary to set things right. If you need to get something done at work, making a schedule for yourself may be a great idea to keep you on track. But discipline doesn't discount your ability to cut yourself a break. Try to go into your experiences with good intentions, do the best you can extend the same patience to yourself that you would to a friend or family member.
2. Get comfortable writing yourself permission slips.
No one likes to be wrong. But it happens! A lot. Whether you're trying a physical activity for the first time and screw up, or are taking on a new role at work and make errors in your first few weeks, it's important to remember that no one is an expert at everything. And even for experts, there is always more to learn. If you feel the impulse to hate on yourself, try writing yourself a "permission slip" instead. Rather than beat yourself up for self-judgment, simply try to recognize when you feel it coming on, and use them as to practice writing those permission slips.
Rather than direct all of your energy toward trying to be right all the time, enjoy the process that comes with gaining new insight or mastering a new skill. Should you encounter information that contradicts what you previously had been taught, keep an open mind and take it as an opportunity to clarify what you are hearing.
3. Shelve those comparisons.
If you're anything like me, you surround yourself with people who you respect and admire. After all, there is a reason why you've made them part of your tribe.
When impressive people surround us, it can be difficult not to compare our own skills, looks or achievements to theirs. However natural this may be, it's not necessarily constructive.
The truth is that everyone has a unique set of strengths, weaknesses and personal experiences. Yes, the person who you are comparing yourself to may be exceptionally talented in one area, but you also possess a unique sensibility that they don't have.
If we make things too much about competition and comparison then we lose out on the innovation that occurs when we collaborate using our unique gifts. The next time you find yourself feeling green next to another individual, ask yourself about the strengths you have that compliment theirs? Everyone benefits if you can share your strengths.
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