We humans are incredibly hard on ourselves. We’ve been taught that being hard on ourselves equates to being the best and the most likely to succeed. But often times we are hard on ourselves in ways that don’t benefit our thoughts, feelings or behaviors. We think and speak to ourselves in word and tone that we’d never allow others to do.
“When you’re hard on yourself the world will be easy on you.”
Zig is a mentor of mine. Did he mean we should beat yourselves senseless in word and tone until we get “it” just right? No. When you read much of his work you’ll find that he also says “It’s not what happens to us that matters, it’s how we handle what happens to us that matters most.” I believe this is almost entirely true.
To honor this principle of living demands that we are self-compassionate more than self-berating. I believe the most successful people on earth aren’t quick to let themselves off the hook but they also don’t over-dramatize or catastrophize mistakes and flaws. Instead they evaluate, they course correct, they practice “trial and correction” rather than a “trial and error” thinking.
Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson has studied the science, yes science, of self-compassion extensively and she has this to say in a recent blog post on the subject of self-compassion …
A growing body of research, including new studies by Berkeley’s Juliana Breines and Serena Chen, suggest that self-compassion, rather than self-esteem, may be the key to unlocking your true potential for greatness.
Self-compassion is a willingness to look at your own mistakes and shortcomings with kindness and understanding — it’s embracing the fact that to err is indeed human. When you are self-compassionate in the face of difficulty, you neither judge yourself harshly, nor feel the need to defensively focus on all your awesome qualities to protect your ego. It’s not surprising that self-compassion leads, as many studies show, to higher levels of personal well-being, optimism and happiness, and to less anxiety and depression.
To answer the question about whether “being hard on ourselves” is the ideal principle to live by she writes …
To answer that, it’s important to understand what self-compassion is not. While the spirit of self-compassion is to some degree captured in expressions like give yourself a break and cut yourself some slack, it is decidedly not the same thing as taking yourself off the hook or lowering the bar. You can be self-compassionate while still accepting responsibility for your performance. And you can be self-compassionate while striving for the most challenging goals — the difference lies not in where you want to end up, but in how you think about the ups and downs of your journey. As a matter of fact, if you are self-compassionate, new research suggests you are more likely to actually arrive at your destination.
Being hard on yourself, in my opinion, means raising the bar and expecting more of yourself. But it in no way means to be unforgiving to oneself or self-berating. Being hard on yourself will ask that you fail forward and recovery quickly, that you do practice trial and correction rather than focusing on the error within trial and error.
If you are striving for ANYTHING noteworthy at all you are going to screw up. To learn and grow demands there be failures of process along the way.
“To avoid all criticism, say nothing, do nothing and be nothing.”
Dr. Halvorson concludes her article with this …
Here’s an unavoidable truth: You are going to screw up. Everyone — including very successful people — makes boatloads of mistakes. The key to success is, as everyone knows, to learn from those mistakes and keep moving forward. But not everyone knows how. Self-compassion is the how you’ve been looking for. So please, give yourself a break.
I agree with Dr. Halvorson. You can read her entire article or learn more about her here.