When I realized that I’d forgotten my mom’s birthday, the self-judgments hit me hard. “I’m a horrible daughter. And an airhead. How could I be so selfish? My mom would never be so thoughtless. I must be one of those self-absorbed millennials the news is always complaining about.”
Ever had self-abasing thoughts? It’s true that we are usually our own worst critics, and this can generate some of the most powerful negative feelings (use The Art of Distractibility to cope with these). You may think that scolding yourself helps to keep you accountable or mend your ways. However, research suggests that your brain reacts to self-criticism the way that it does to outside threats – with a fight, flight, or freeze reaction. This narrows your focus for disaster, making it darn difficult if not impossible to be kind, creative, clear-sighted, or effective. Being kind to yourself helps you to interrupt self-punishing thoughts so that you can do what you need and want to do.
What can you do to halt self-flagellating thoughts? (Definition here!)
The Art of Distractibility enables you to question the self-deprecating voice and choose the self-befriending voice. When we berate ourselves, we get stuck in a rut of, “I’m-so-bad” self-talk. You can’t move forward if you’re mired in this paralyzing pattern. Instead, researcher Dr. Kristin Neff recommends treating yourself as you would treat a good friend: with honesty and kindness, offering to listen, support, and help.
Bust out of debilitating, “I-suck” cycles and become your own best friend. Here’s how:
- Notice the thought. Observe what you’re saying to yourself. Notice the exact words you say to yourself, without censoring. No need to judge; just see it playing out in your head.
- Ask, “Is it true?” Is what you’re telling yourself 100% true? Look for absolute language such as, “always” and, “never,” which almost always has exceptions. Hunt for evidence that might challenge the thought.
- Ask, “What would my best friend say to me?” If your best friend heard the self-critical thoughts, what would she or he do? Contradict the thoughts? Give you a pep talk? Offer a hug? Brainstorm solutions? Something else?
- Be your own best friend. Do what your own best friend would do for you, or something comparably compassionate. Chances are it will be something truthful and kind that will help you to forgive yourself and move forward.
Constructive feedback can help us to improve, but incessantly harsh self-talk can zap hope, lower motivation, kill creativity, and diminish the energy you need to feel good and grow into your best self. If you forget mom’s birthday, forgive yourself the memory lapse and then make it up to her! Artfully distract yourself with self-kindness and extend this kindness to others.