I hate messing up.
The reason I know that is because I feel like I’ve been doing it a lot lately.
And I cannot handle it. I beat myself up about it because apparently I have a fundamental belief that I should be better, infallible, perfect. I should not make those stupid careless mistakes and misjudgements that it’s okay for others to make.
They are always my fault. Never just shit happening.
And I hate myself a little more with each one… until eventually I don’t and I let it go.
But it often takes me waaaaay to long to let it go.
I can manage things going wrong when they are out of my control. I’m resilient when the dishwasher breaks or I get burgled, the electrician tells me I need a whole new fuse box or the cat knocks tea over my laptop and kills it (I mean there is swearing but I deal with it, mostly).
But when it’s in my control and I make the mess… Booooom… the self-flagellating begins… I’m an idiot, I should know better, I should be more careful, I should work harder, try harder, be better, be beyond reproach… that delightful internal abusive narrative goes to town!
I know rationally that it’s nonsense to hold myself to such high standards and it’s something I’m working on but, man, it’s hard!
I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this reaction.
So how do you stop being so mean to yourself?
I’ve tried to distil how I deal with these feelings of inadequacy and trying to rid myself of the perfectionism curse. I’ve come up with these 7 suggestions which I hope fellow self critics will find useful.
This sounds like an odd place to start but it’s often my first reaction. Last week I cried silently pretty much through an entire yoga class. Crying in frustration at that moment you wish you could undo something or get a second try. I actually think crying is an underrated coping mechanism.
I don’t know the science behind it but there is something so cathartic about crying. I always feel better after a good cry (on the kitchen floor for added drama – we’ve all been there right?), so long as I don’t let it dissolve into a pity party.
Cry, wipe your tears, blow your nose and move forward.
2. Make friends with yourself
When I’m being mean to myself I try and give myself a break by imagining how I would talk to a friend or loved one if they made the same ‘mistake’ that I did. Normally I would say something like, “don’t be so hard on yourself”, “it doesn’t matter” or “everyone is human”. This is a great little tactic which helps soften my self-rebuke.
It amazes me what a cow I am to myself sometimes so this is a good way to call bullshit on your negative self talking monkey brain.
3. Find a lesson in your perceived failure
I try to live with the attitude that there is no failure, only the opportunity to learn.
By the end of the aforementioned weepy yoga class, I had decided that the universe was presenting me with opportunities to be kind to myself, because it’s obviously something I need to practice. There was my lesson from a cluster of clumsy avoidable fails which had piled up on me.
No matter what crap you go through, there is always something to learn, something which will help you in the future. If everything was perfect we would all be boring robots. Adversity builds resilience and empathy which are basically survival skills!
4. Celebrate victories
I remember many years ago when I was a relatively new PA, organising my first big event. It all went really well with one exception. I forgot the pointer thingy. I ignored all the things that went right and for a week after focused on my one perceived failure. Another pointer was found on the day but all I remember from that event was my mistake. I can look back at it with amusement now, but at the time I was horrified. What I should have done was to look at the 99% of things that went right and celebrated that!
Celebrating our success is so important. Taking the time to think about what went right helps us to see what we are capable of, instead of focusing on what we’re not! It helps build confidence and a positive attitude.
5. Practice gratitude
This is an extension of celebrating victories. In a lot of the podcasts I listen to, writing gratitude lists is something which comes up time and again. I confess it’s not something I do very often but when you think everything about you is horrible and failing, how about you force yourself to write 10 things you’re grateful for, or 10 things you do like about yourself – hell, start with 3 if you struggle with 10. The way you love your dog, your smile, your passion…. whatever it is, just try and change the mindset from one of negativity to focus on the positive.
I used to be unable to walk for more than an hour, so I always start these lists with having my physical health, having a mind that can learn, having friends, having a roof over my head… I know it sounds a bit silly but it genuinely helps alter your underlying subconscious attitude.
6. Get some perspective
Whatever you’re giving yourself crap for, know in your bones that you will get through it.
I expect 90% of your ‘imperfections’ are really actually quite irrelevant in the grander scheme of things. Look at my pointer fail – I can see now that that could not matter less. Try and fast forward your thinking and ask how much you will care about what’s bugging you now in 6 months’ time. If it doesn’t matter in the future, then try to give it less weight today.
Sometimes spending time with friends, or getting out and helping others or just going out for a walk can help with gaining perspective.
Whatever works for you, do something to get out of your head and stop that circle of negative thinking!
7. Forgive yourself and learn acceptance
This is where I always tend to end up. It would be helpful to get here faster but the only way out is through.
No one is perfect (sorry, not even you Beyonce!).
Life is messy. You will mess up. But mess is also fun and creative and how we learn and create joy. Embrace it!
Accept that you are not perfect – and at the same time, that you are perfect as you are.
Accept that perfect doesn’t actually exist, that it’s a bit like the horizon and will always be in front of you.
Accept that you are going to make mistakes but that isn’t the same as being ‘bad’.
I am reading a book by Tara Brach called Radical Acceptance (aff) (find it here if you’re in the US) and this explains how embracing your mistakes and forgiving yourself is a hugely powerful tool. But it takes practice. The book is a little woo-woo but also makes a lot of sense. It uses Buddhist teachings to explain why acceptance sets you free from suffering.
When I’m stressed, or worried I’m going to fail at something, I feel like I am holding my breath all the time. Accepting that maybe it will all turn to ash, and if it does then I will handle it, that I probably won’t die from whatever catastrophe I’m trying to avoid is like being able to breathe again.
Acceptance liberates you from that feeling that you are being held to ransom by your fear of imperfection.
Give yourself permission to be human.
Love yourself a little more.
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