Are you your own worst critic?
Imagine that one of your friends called you and explained they were feeling bad about themselves because they hadn’t been able to make it to the gym as often as planned. Would you tell them that they’re a failure and they might as well give up now because they’ll never reach their goal?
Absolutely not! But how often have you spoken to yourself that way?
Often, we are our own worst critics, and that can really hold us back from the changes we’re trying to make. How do we work on silencing that negative voice in our minds? One way is showing yourself more compassion.
Dr. Kristin Neff, an associate professor of human development at the University of Texas at Austin, wrote a book on the subject and outlined three key ideas:
Self-kindness: Self-kindness means being supportive and understanding towards yourself, just as you would be to a friend. Instead of being critical, recognize that you’re doing the best you can in a given situation.
Common humanity: Common humanity means recognizing that everyone fails or gets it wrong at some point. When things aren’t going well, you might think you’re the only person struggling, which leaves you feeling isolated. Recognizing everyone struggles allows you to feel less alone when you’re going through difficult circumstances.
Mindfulness: When you are mindful of your negative thoughts, you notice them without judgment and can keep from getting caught up in an adverse reaction. Mindfulness also helps us keep confusing these negative thoughts with our identity. For example, you may feel bad about not going to the gym, but that doesn’t make you a failure as a person.
Here is an exercise to help you practice more self-compassion by looking at how you talk to others compared to how you talk to yourself. Think about the following questions:
- Think about times when a close friend feels really bad about him or herself or is really struggling in some way. How do you respond to your friend in this situation (especially when you’re at your best)?
- Now think about times when you feel bad about yourself or are struggling. How do you typically respond to yourself in these situations?
- Did you notice a difference? If so, ask yourself why. What factors or fears come into play that lead you to treat yourself and others so differently?
- Write down how you think things might change if you responded to yourself in the same way you typically respond to a close friend when you’re suffering.
The next time you feel the critical self-talk coming on, try treating yourself like a friend instead.
Sarah Sommer is a wellness coordinator at the Advocate BroMenn Health and Fitness Center in Bloomington, Ill.
About the Author
Sarah Sommer is the wellness coordinator at the Advocate BroMenn Health & Fitness Center in Bloomington, IL. She completed her MPH at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana with a concentration in health behavior and promotion. Sarah enjoys helping people define what health and wellness means to them and supporting them during their journey.