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How to quit being so hard on yourself

  • Everything I write here is based on my experience. I am one of those people who has always had a plan. I had my life figured out, right from when I was in secondary school. I knew the profession I would choose, when I would have my first child, had possible names for them, when I would set up my own businesses, what my retirement plan would be, etc. I was that detailed, even as a teenager.

    However, life had other plans for me. I can’t say I have derailed entirely from my life plan but by my calculations, I am definitely not where I was supposed to be. Sometime in 2016, the realization dawned on me, and I sort of hit rock bottom for about a week. No one in my family knew what was going on, but I was breaking inside. I felt useless, like a failure and was consumed with self-pity. It was as though I was not doing anything worthwhile with my life.

    One day, I lay on my bed, unable to get up to do anything. It is safe to say I was hurtling towards depression. If I had kept it up, I would be clinically depressed. Thankfully, I recognized the signs and confided in a friend. Till date, I am not sure what he said to me, but it helped, and I realized I was too hard on myself; I had so many things going for me. I was comforted by that and the knowledge that I didn’t have to overstretch myself by trying to work according to a self-assigned clock.

    I can’t say that I am now completely cured of being unnecessarily critical of myself, but I am better and guess what! I want to help you be better, if you are like me. If you are a perfectionist or go-getter, then you will most likely have this problem too.

    However, to find a solution to a problem, you have to begin by identifying the problem. The truth is that some of us just like being organized while others are tearing down the track to become obsessive-compulsive perfectionists. Find out which one you are by these red flags:

    You don’t know how to give yourself a break

    From the story I related earlier, you would notice that I did not know how to make excuses for myself. I felt like I had to deliver always and if I didn’t, I would give myself a hard time. In the same way, you may have noticed that you tend to beat yourself up about mistakes. Often you say, “I shouldn’t have done this… I know better than this… I can’t believe I did this….”

    Even after you have corrected the mistake, you just won’t allow yourself to hear the last of it. However, if someone made the same error, you would probably justify it and understand with the person.

    You put yourself last

    It goes beyond wanting to take care of everyone else. You put yourself last in that you would take care of everything else on your to-do list but keep putting off self-care. You tell yourself I will do it later or somehow, you believe that doing anything for yourself would be a waste of time or resources.

    You take responsibility for others’ actions

    A part of you just loves to micromanage everything, even down to others’ behaviour. This is most likely why someone would upset you, and you would, first of all, look inward to assess how you may have caused that person’s behaviour. You go as far as blaming yourself for not doing better as though your ‘shortcoming’ is the reason someone else did the wrong thing.

    Related article: The suffer head syndrome: Stop glorifying suffering to justify success

    You follow a strict schedule

    You have a well thought out plan of how you want your life to look like, and you follow it religiously. You don’t deviate and anything you didn’t plan for, you find it difficult to accept. This is why you would go to extra lengths to see every plan comes to fruition. You also use the milestone on this schedule to measure your level of success. If your life does not hold up to the ‘standard,’ you feel like a failure.

    Now, you may have recognized these traits in yourself. I know, it is hard to accept them as problems. You may rationalize it by saying that these habits keep your focused and your life, organized. But can we be frank for a second? If you look closely, you will realise that you are doing yourself more harm than good. You are hurting yourself mentally and emotionally by the burden of pressure you have placed on yourself. Perhaps, even your relationships are suffering because no one else can understand why you are so hard on yourself. 

    When you put so much energy into analysis and self-criticism, you exhaust yourself and become less productive because you are wasting time on going over what you have done, didn’t do or should have done.

    Lastly, you have to admit that life is best enjoyed with episodic bursts of spontaneity. This is one thing I am struggling with, but I will be the first to say that some of the best things that have happened in my life were not planned for. Call it serendipity or a lucky break, but it is beautiful when you take a chill pill now and then and just let life flow smoothly and unbridled like the clear waters of a stream.

    This is why you have to do these:

    Evaluate your mistakes

    You like evaluations, don’t you? Then apply it positively. You have made a mistake. Now, instead of freaking out, ask yourself, “How much damage have I really done?” The perfect unit of analysis may be monetary or based on time. The chances are that what you are fretting about is not really a big deal. No one but you is really upset about the slip-up.

    If it is a huge deal, learn to forgive yourself. Make it right in any way you can then remind yourself as many times as it takes that you have done all you can. Then move on.

    Make yourself a priority

    You think it is hard but do it on a whim one day. Start with something as small as indulging in a tub of ice cream or kicking back and staying home to watch TV rather than going out to save the world. When you slow down like this occasionally, it allows you to take stock of your life and be more grateful.

    Accept that you can’t fix everything

    No one is responsible for anyone’s choices, not even God. That is why we have the powerful thing within us all called willpower. You can’t think for everyone either. Do your part but don’t blame yourself when someone decides to act like a jackass.

    See your life through other’s eyes

    Take a step back from your life anytime you are beginning to feel overwhelmed or like you are not doing enough. Try to see your life as your colleagues, friends and family members. You will readily recognise that the world is not falling apart as you think it is. Do this often, and you will learn to be patient with yourself.

    You are human

    It seems like a pretty obvious point to make but people like me, we forget sometimes. We want to dot all the ‘I’s and cross the ‘T’s. This is the reason we excuse other people’s mistakes and not ours. You are as human as everyone else and that includes not being perfect. I think the beauty of being human is our messy nature. We make mistakes, learn, get back on our feet and probably make mistakes again! What is the fun in being squeaky clean and flawless all the time? That is just boring!

    So you see, your excessive self-criticism is not justified. You will still get to where you are heading; there is no need to die a million deaths before you do. Kick back, relax and enjoy life. It might seem like it is not in your nature but with time, little by little, you will get the hang of it.

    I recommend you also check out this articles about the other side of hard work and why you need to change your approach.

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