Productive and successful is the best way I can describe this past month except for the last day when I totally forgot about an important meeting which was scheduled three months in advance. I had simply forgotten to add it into my calendar. It ended up costing me money, embarrassment, and the much dreaded derailment of my positive mindset. It did not matter that I had experienced so many successes. My mind relentlessly focused on the one messed up situation and I became my own worst enemy and critic. Regardless of all my accomplishments, criticizing my failures flowed right into seeing what I am not and forgetting all the successes.
A Buddhist teaching succinctly states, “your worst enemy cannot harm you as much as your own unguarded thoughts.” Why do we allow our minds to be hijacked by such a distorted impression of ourselves? Perhaps we are driven by expectations of perfection or we fear that we will not live up to the standards of others. As soon as an expectation is not met, it is as if an alarm goes off and we fall into the abyss of self-judgement. This gap is between what we feel we should be doing and the actual reality.
Society often teaches us that without high expectations, we will not achieve or succeed in life. Many people stop striving as the expectations seem completely out of reach. Some often get so carried away in the details of striving that they get burned out. Sometimes a lurking insecurity will demand self-criticism thereby paralyzing the person from taking action. Being hard on yourself is also used as a defense mechanism. I had a client who would always speak harshly and negatively about herself. She preferred punching herself before others could punch her resulting in her friends sympathizing and rallying around her to make her feel better.
Is there a way to stop this vicious cycle of becoming your own worst enemy? In fact, once you step out of this dynamic, you will discover the freedom in becoming your own best friend.
- Become aware of your self-criticism and immediately turn it into self-praise. Many of us are taught to avoid boasting but this is far from that kind of arrogance. You are talking to yourself all day so you are going to build yourself up again and again. This will soon become a habit such that negative situations will not allow you to tear yourself down. Your confidence and self-esteem will continue to improve.
- Write down all of your expectations. Go through the list one-by-one and discard it once you are able to see the irrationality and antiquated beliefs underlying each expectation. Note if the expectation is unrealistic. For example, you expect to get 100% on every test and if you score 90%, the self-criticism begins. Let go of the need for perfection and be more flexible.
- Fully accept yourself exactly as you are. Notice your strengths and weaknesses and know that this is just a superficial assessment of who you are. You picked up this selective way of viewing yourself when you were a child. There is so much more about you that you have not discovered yet. Stay curious and continue to expand your goals, dreams, hobbies, friendships, experiences, etc.