Our biggest demons lie primarily inside our own heads. When we’re moving steadily towards our big goals and dreams, we quickly get in our own way. One of the most common ways we let this happen is by defaulting to our judgmental inner voice. You know the one – it’s like your inner Regina George (“that is the ugliest skirt I’ve ever seen“).
When it comes to that voice, nothing is ever good enough. The problem? This harsh self-criticism is hugely de-motivating and releases stress hormones like cortisol – the same that are released when someone else puts you down. It’s definitely not as harmless as we might think.
In the same way that a critical inner voice can harm us, a supportive inner voice that is encouraging and kind can release the same ‘happy’ hormones as if we’re being supported by a loved one.
In fact, Stanford University Psychologist Dr. Kelly McGonigal says, “Self-compassion – being supportive and kind to yourself, especially in the face of stress and failure – is associated with more motivation and better self-control.”
Give these five practices a go to swap that tired critical broken record in your head for a compassionate mindset to support your goals.
Delve regularly into a metta practice.
We love this heart-warming practice at night, right before falling asleep. A metta practise is a type of Buddhist meditation and translates roughly to loving-kindness. With regular practice, it changes the thoughts that flow through your mind by replacing defeating thoughts with supportive ones.
- May I be happy and healthy.
- May I feel loved and supported.
- May I be at peace.
- May I trust my life.
What flows through our brain can actually change it!
What would you say to a good friend?
Ultimately, we must aim to create a default mindset that doesn’t begin with criticism but with love. Whatever the situation you’re navigating—whether you just failed on a new project, got some less than great feedback from your boss, or had the same fight again with your partner—what would you say to a good friend if they were in that same scenario?
Write it out, and then turn it around and say it to yourself.
“Self-compassion – being supportive and kind to yourself, especially in the face of stress and failure – is associated with more motivation and better self-control.”
Name it to tame it!
Sometimes the critical voices in our heads aren’t even ours! Does this voice sound like someone from your past? A critical parent? A harsh teacher? Your arch-nemesis from high school?
Give the voice a name – this helps us take it less seriously. Then thank it for its opinion and MOVE ON.
Change your state with positive interruption.
Our mind and body can get into a negative feedback loop that can be difficult to interrupt. Negative thoughts create a stress response in the body; the body sends feedback to the brain that it’s stressed, and then stressful, negative thoughts continue. Interrupt this with something that will change your state immediately.
Try dancing to a favourite song, singing out loud, watching a funny video that makes you laugh, hitting play on your favourite playlist, meditate, drink a big glass of water, cry, call a friend?
These could be different for all of us, so make your own positive interruption list and give it a try!
Recognize that perfection is not the goal.
We might never be able to totally eliminate doubtful or critical thoughts from our minds, just like we can’t totally eliminate challenges from our life. Recognize that the goal here isn’t to be perfect at treating ourselves compassionately. It’s to become stronger at recognizing when our defeating thoughts chime in and then practice these techniques to shift into a more skillful way of thinking.
Listen, this is the only life we get, so why would we spend it continuously criticizing ourselves? Get out there and go for your biggest dreams and goals, so at the end of this crazy ride, you look back with peace and wonder.