I had a bit of a hard time writing this. I didn’t want to run the gamut of “cheesy”— I mean, really? “Be kind to yourself” has been repeated enough to leave a bad taste in your mouth whenever you hear it. Not because it isn’t worth doing, but because it’s been distorted through an almost mindless repetition.
Yet it wasn’t until I got past the cynicism and actually tried to see — mostly out of amusement — if I could really change the automated “ugh, you’re such an idiot” and “you’re actually as stupid as you were told growing up” tapes of doom that play in your mind at the slightest inkling of a mistake.
Like most things that require change, releasing that tune didn’t happen overnight. And it also didn’t take a self-improvement hack.
Looking back, it took two things: the awareness of it and the desire to change it.
No life hack can get you the two, you have to decide on the latter— you have to decide you want it because that’s the only way you’ll experience “better.” With awareness, it took being alone with myself and watching what I did mentally. Before it changed (and improvement is always a work in progress), there were some things I needed to understand about that horrid bully in my head — the one we all have.
We have self-indulgence all wrong
For whatever reason it’s easy to think not mentally beating ourselves up is — in some convoluted yet unfounded way — indulgent.
If you aren’t giving yourself at least a dozen mental lashes when you go wrong, then you aren’t paying your penitence. You aren’t showing that you really are sorry and that you’ll “do better next time.”
This is far from true and it’s a habit we learn from whoever our caretakers were growing up, as far as I can tell. It makes sense. If that’s the main — and often only — point of reference you had for how you were to treat and relate to yourself why would you do anything different?
Still, as you grow you hit a point where you realize negative self-talk only stands in our way, making us feel less than adequate, incapable, alienated, and not worthy of love from others.
I’ve found that self-indulgence only begins when we don’t try learning from our mistakes and we deliberately don’t care who we hurt in the process. Being mentally kind to yourself is not only necessary but extremely healthy — and absolutely necessary in the face of the growing pressures of the world.
Giving away agency
We have more power to change what we can control than we realize (because when we fully realize it, the sudden responsibility can seem scary). Often, what we counterintuitively do is focus on what can’t be changed.
In doing this we give away our agency.
We forgo the easy route because the other is drawn nigh by a capricious desire to bulldoze everything rather than look at what is. Gaining back agency often starts with becoming aware of what’s actually beneficial to you (and by default to those around you too).
I try to run a few times a week at my local trail. I love the idea of it — and love it even more when I have my sneakers on and a curated playlist on standby. When I’m in the middle of running, especially in searing California weather, I love it less.
And when I start thinking of things like “stop” or “you run weird, turn around” I already feel my body slowing down and toying with not hitting the predetermined finish line. Negative self-talk essentially slows your whole life down.
In fact, the perils of negative self-talk are backed by science. According to research, not taming it can increase your risk of dementia and is linked to cognitive decline in more ways than one — including the ability to form memories.
It’s often an understatement to say we are the biggest naysayers in our life. It’s not your friends telling you you can’t do something, or your younger sibling, or even your capricious parent, it’s most often you — as you go thinking up all the reasons why the answer should be “no.”
Eliminating write-offs is a skill worth practicing.
The next time you see something you think you’d want to challenge yourself to do. It’s worth taking a minute to pause and remember that you aren’t supposed to close your own doors. As with any other muscle, the more you do it, the easier it gets to not automatically limit yourself — even if what you get is rejection.
Protection. In many ways, that’s what negative self-talk is. Except it’s hard to realize in real time how much negative self talk is hurting you more than helping you, even if it feels comfortable.
Changing the automated way in which you react to your self takes time. But it’s possible — in a lasting, non-fairy tale kind of way. In a way that’s tangible.
Now my mind no longer presses play on self-beratement every time either the small or the big things go South. If it does, it’s only a matter of time before I realize that talking to myself like that no longer feels good.