A Habit worth breaking: Self-criticism/judging yourself harshly.

Have you ever noticed or been told that you are our own worst critic? Do you criticize yourself for your perceived shortcomings, imperfections, and mistakes? Do you live in fear of taking risks in your career and big steps in your life because you worry about being judged harshly by yourself or others if things do not go perfectly? If so, you are not alone. Many high-achievers are hard on themselves. Some even believe that this perfectionism and “accountability” is part of what drives them to succeed.

But what if you decided to break the habit of self-criticism in favor of becoming your own cheerleader and role model? What if you decided to evaluate your results without judgment and with curiosity and an open mind instead? What few high-achievers realize is that non-judgmental awareness is power.

Your new habit: Practicing non-judgmental awareness, curiosity, and self-compassion

When you observe your habits, and behaviors without judgment, you become receptive to information in the form of your (sometimes unconscious) beliefs, thoughts, self-talk and patterns. This information can be missed when you are busy telling yourself things like, “I can’t believe I ate that ice cream! I have no willpower…” or “I’ll never reach my goal. I always do something to sabotage myself.”

Rather than jumping to conclusions, criticism and judgment, it helps to be open-minded and curious about why you strayed from your nutrition plan or ate when you were not hungry, for example. Did you wait too long to have a healthy snack or meal? Did you forget to drink enough water to stay hydrated? Were you depleted of energy and looking for a way to recharge quickly, so that you could get on with your day?

Sometimes simply becoming aware of your behavior patterns and habits is enough to improve them. You might realize that skipping lunch leaves you cranky, tired, and vulnerable to grabbing foods that don’t serve you later in the day, and decide that taking good care of yourself means planning ahead and packing a healthy lunch that you enjoy. Behavioral change will often occur naturally as you make different choices from a place of open-minded awareness. Other times, if habits are deeply ingrained, it may take time, patience, and work with a therapist or coach, to make progress toward lasting change. The bottom line is that awareness is the beginning of change and the source of great power.

Right now, you may be asking, “How can I practice non-judgmental awareness, when even my self-critical thoughts and judgments are habits?”

You can learn to practice non-judgmental awareness by:

  1. Slowing down and deciding to be open-minded and curious about your habits and/or behavior. Try to notice patterns in how you talk to yourself and react after a disappointment, mistake, or imperfect performance.  For example, if you tend to overeat in the late afternoons and then blame yourself, ask yourself why, and whether this habit of blaming yourself is serving your best interests. What might you learn if you suspended blame and simply allowed yourself to be curious about the reasons that you are turning to food at that time of day. What patterns do you notice?
  2. Keeping a journal, in print or on an electronic device, and recording what is going on in your mind each time you notice yourself being self-critical or judgmental. What are you telling yourself? How would your life be different if you chose not to criticize yourself, but instead took a neutral, self-compassionate, curious approach? What did you learn?
  3. Taking some time every day to review your journal and reflect on what you have noticed and the progress you are making in this area can change your life for the better. I invite you to try it and see how it works for you. Please remember that habit change takes time and practice. You won’t do it perfectly every time, but if you persist you’ll make progress. If ever you feel stuck, feel free to ask for help from a trusted coach or therapist. They are trained to provide help and support in this area.

Signs of Success:

How will you know if you are making progress in breaking this habit of self-criticism and judgment?

1. You find yourself jumping to negative, critical conclusions less often, and then, speaking to yourself more kindly. You can find more on the powerful choice to deliberately choose your self-talk in future blog posts.
2. You are more relaxed and clear-headed when things don’t go as planned.
3. You are more curious about how you react to circumstances and events in your life, and more deliberate in how you respond.

In the next “Habits worth breaking” post, we’ll consider how reacting (vs. responding) is a habit that causes many of us to become stuck in unsatisfying circumstances, behaviors, and relationships. We'll discuss an alternative approach that gives you more control over your life.

I hope this post has been helpful to you.

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