Do you find yourself beating yourself up when you fail? When you were good, but not great? When you are progressing, but not fast enough?
This is a recurring theme among some of my clients – those with perfectionist tendencies in particular. If you are someone with big dreams and high expectations for yourself, I bet you know what I’m talking about. Beating yourself up is challenging habit to let go of, to say the least.
Some of us hold ourselves to impossible standards and then tear ourselves apart when we fail. This focus on our inadequacies also prevents us from celebrating our strengths and accomplishments. Maybe we understand, at least intellectually, that it’s not serving us. But how do we actually break the cycle?
Here’s what I’ve learned over the years. This is not a specific 10-step process, per se. It’s more of a collection of strategies in the approximate order I would use them. Feel free to use any or all of them in whatever order works for you.
HOW TO (FINALLY) STOP BEATING YOURSELF UP
1. Take responsibility
If you made a mistake, admit it. If you made a mess, clean it up. Whatever the problem is, own up to it. It feels great and it’s the right thing to do. Once you’ve taken responsibility, there is no need to dwell on it.
2. Let it go
Admit that, quite frankly, beating yourself up is a huge waste of time. It doesn’t actually accomplish anything for anyone. Kind of like holding a grudge against someone else. Remember that you always have a choice and decide to let it go and move on.
3. Feel your emotions
In order to move on, I believe we must go through our emotions, as opposed going around them (by ignoring or denying them), which may lead to dealing with the uncomfortable emotion in an unhealthy or unnecessary way. Find a healthy way to express your frustration / anger / disappointment to get it out of your system.
4. Forgive yourself
There is incredible power in forgiveness. There is also plenty of research that backs up the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of forgiveness. Make a conscious choice to forgive yourself (and others). It’s good for you.
5. Choose self-love and self-acceptance
Know that you are intrinsically valuable. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone to be worthy. You simply are. So, decide to love and accept yourself in spite of your failures and imperfections. Or, take it a step further and decide to love and accept yourself because of your failures and imperfections. They are part of what make you unique.
6. Practice self-compassion
Many of us are capable of showing incredible compassion for others, yet struggle to show that same compassion for ourselves. Try this. Remember a time that you felt compassion for someone else. Recreate the emotional state you were in. Imagine it vividly. While feeling this way, you certainly wouldn’t beat them up, would you? No. You would treat them with the love and respect they deserve. You’d be warm, gentle, and understanding. Now, take those same emotions and direct them at yourself.
7. Shift your perspective
Realize that every “failure” is actually an opportunity. Every time you fall, get back up, and dust yourself off, you gain something – like strength, experience, or wisdom. As they often say in yoga, “every time you fall you’re simply learning how not to fall.”
8. Embrace failure
Once you’ve shifted your perspective, you can go one step further and actually embrace failure. Celebrate the chance to grow! If you’ve ever taken an improv class, you may have learned the technique of following up a failure by throwing your arms in the air and yelling “TADA!” (If you’ve never taken an improv class, I highly recommend it.)
9. Have a sense of humor
Take your dreams seriously, by all means, but know that it’s really about the journey. The journey will always be full of surprises, challenges, and “learning opportunities”. Cultivate the ability to laugh at yourself so that you can recover quickly from those hiccups and bounce back with enthusiasm. Plus, you’ll be a lot more fun to be around.
10. Be patient
Changing old patterns takes time. It’s not a light switch that you can switch on and off. It’s more like a dimmer switch. Every time you bring your awareness to the old unconscious behavior (beating yourself up) and decide to replace it with something else (self-compassion) you are rewiring your brain. It takes time.