I’ve been working on being less critical of myself in the last several years. My biggest personal frustrations happen when I make mistakes or don’t live up to my own (often too high) self-imposed expectations.
Some people think that being hard or extra critical of yourself gives you an edge. While motivating with anger can have short-term gains, it’s not a good long-term plan. Over the long haul, it undermines your confidence and could even cause you to avoid taking on challenges where you could fail. Beating yourself up also causes feelings of constriction in the body which crushes creativity and flow.
How do you acknowledge anger without letting it consume you? For the purpose of the rest of this example, I’ll only be referring to being angry or judging yourself. I’ll also add the caveat that this is a life practice- it’s not something where you will read about it, try it, and it’ll be fixed.
I started with noticing what situations lend to my harshest criticisms, and it turns out that it would happen a lot on the bike. Situations include not being able to keep up with someone, not being able to complete a prescribed workout or sustain a certain power number, not performing where I think I should in a race, getting lost in a race situation, taking too long to get ready to ride and have to reduce my overall ride time, and one of the biggest- walking a technical section. Harsh judgment can come in many flavors and scenarios, so the first step is paying attention to when this happens most. That’s your soccer pitch/practice room/arena to start working on it.
Next, avoid suppressing the feeling of anger or frustration. Sometimes the feeling of frustration and criticism happen almost simultaneously. Can you notice the feeling before the inner voice kicks in? Even if it’s for a nano-second and you can label the feeling of “anger” or “frustration,” that immediately gives you some power back. In meditation, noting is a very powerful way of practicing this when feelings aren’t intense. Read more about that here.
I’ve been working on noting “anger” or “frustration” and then asking questions about it. Where do I feel it in my body? What does this energy feel like? Using curiosity about the emotion delays me from adding my own colorful criticisms to WHY I feel angry. Acceptance of emotions is key to moving past them.
The ultimate goal is noticing the emotion without interpreting or taking action on it. A regular check-in with yourself or mindfulness practice can give you a turbo-boost in this kind of mental work.
Last, have something else you say to yourself. Practicing self-compassion might sound ooey-gooey, but it’s as simple as saying, “it’s okay.” Or if that’s too hard, imagine what someone that loves you would say to you (or what you would say to a loved one). Chances are, you wouldn’t hammer away at them. You’d probably say something like, “It’s okay to make mistakes. You are still awesome. It’s okay to listen to your body and slow down or walk that section. You are only human.” etc. etc. Pick a few things that are personal and work for you. “It’s okay” has been simple and helpful for me.
To sum up:
- Pay attention to situations that cause your inner critic to flare up the most.
- Practice noting the emotion you feel before you attach a story to it.
- Use curious questions about how the emotion feels in your body or even what color it is to create more space between reaction and judgment.
- Maybe try a regular mindfulness practice using noting to learn when you are judging. Naming an emotion as soon as possible helps you both accept it and take away some of its power.
- Have something else (that resonates with you) to say yourself instead of the judgmental criticism
There is so much involved in mental skills and mental performance that ultimately can lead to better meaning and fulfillment in our lives. If you want to go deeper, check out my mindset academy or work with me as a health coach. It’s something that most of my clients struggle with (because we are all human!), and I would LOVE to be a part of your journey too!