- Elon Musk, Investor & Entrepreneur
The old phrase really is true for most of us; we’re our own worst critics! It doesn’t matter if other people have bad things to say about our work or hate our art. Chances are that our inner monologues will do a lot more damage than the worst words of others.
However, learning how to stop being your own worst critic is one of the best skills artists, business entrepreneurs and everyone else can learn. It’s one of the only ways you can build up true emotional maturity and inner peace. So let’s go over some ways you can counteract this natural tendency.
ALLOW YOURSELF TO FAIL SOMETIMES
For starters, recognize that you’ll inevitably fail at most things you try at least once, and allow those failures to happen. Don’t waste your time anticipating failure; accept that it’s part of the process and just a factor of being human. No one is perfect, after all.
These days, it’s easy to think that failure is unacceptable. Many aspects of our culture emphasize perfect performance all the time, or they may demand mastery on an extremely truncated timeframe. The truth is, there’s no timeframe that’s perfect for everyone and failing one or more times that a task doesn’t mean you’ll always fail, or that you shouldn’t try.
Failure is a part of life. It doesn’t mean that you’re a failure, however. Recognize this and, in time, your inner critic will stop focusing on it.
RECOGNIZE THAT EACH FAILURE IS AN OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN AND BECOME STRONGER
Furthermore, you should put effort into recognizing that failures are far from net negative events. Instead, failures represent opportunities to learn or chances to become stronger.
The US Marines often say that “pain is just weakness leaving the body”. The same philosophy applies to failures regardless of whether you’re in the Marines, in business, or are an artist. As you fail, it hurts, but you also learn critical lessons about what not to do in the future. You become smarter and stronger.
Seen in this light, it’ll be a lot harder for you to criticize yourself or failures when every failure is just an opportunity to become even better next time.
DON’T COMPARE YOURSELF TO OTHERS
The era of social media has made our tendency to compare ourselves to others even worse than in the past. But comparing yourself to others is one of the worst ways to get your inner critic going. Don’t let it even start.
In fact, try to stop comparing yourself to others in general. Comparison never helps anything and doesn’t provide any positive benefits or motivation. Even if you try to compare yourself to others for the purposes of inspiration, all it is likely to do is inspire jealousy and help you criticize yourself even more.
If it helps, you can even get off social media except when strictly necessary, and even then, avoid looking at the personal profiles of your peers and coworkers.
SEPARATE MISTAKES FROM YOUR CHARACTER
As mentioned above, mistakes are inevitable. But our inner critics love to attach mistakes to our inner images of ourselves as character flaws. This is simply not true or realistic.
In fact, mistakes are more often than not separate aspects of our personalities and characters. Making a mistake during one of your business meetings doesn’t mean you are that mistake, after all, no matter how much your inner critic likes to make it seem that way.
If you can teach yourself to separate your mistakes from your personality, you’ll be able to see those mistakes and learn from them rather than taking a huge ego hit every time. Your character or personality is distinct from your efforts and is, instead, your hopes and ambitions and emotions. It’s not what you fail to do – it’s what you strive for.
DON’T FIXATE ON PAST WORK OR MISTAKES
It’s also a good idea to avoid fixating on your past mistakes, and your past work in general. Always look forward to the future once the appropriate lessons have been learned and you can take prior knowledge and apply it to your current situation.
Fixating on past mistakes is one of our favorite ways to criticize ourselves, but it’s ultimately unhelpful and it prevents us from evolving. Past mistakes are just that: past! They no longer apply so long as you learn the appropriate lessons. So why waste time thinking about them over and over when you could focus on new successes or endeavors?
BUILD A HABIT OF REPEATING GOOD THINGS OR SUCCESSES TO YOURSELF
We have a tendency to focus on negative things or outcomes much more than positive events. Some think this is an evolutionary trait that helped us to avoid dangerous things or situations; with stronger emotional impulses attached to negative events, our ancestors were more likely to remember bad things and stay alive.
In the modern era, our preference for fixating on negative aspects of ourselves or our previous work can have huge and terrible effects for our pride and confidence. Many psychologists believe that your brain requires several positive stimuli or thoughts to balance out a single negative thought.
Alright, brain: why not do just that?
A good idea is to practice telling yourself three positive things about your work or your personality every time your inner critic tries to bring up something negative. Do this over and over and inundate yourself in positivity. You can even draw up a list of all the great things about yourself and your previous work, so you have the list on hand whenever your brain starts to get into criticism mode.
FOCUS ON SELF-COMPASSION
Above all else, it’s critical that you focus on self-compassion. You have to cut yourself some slack if you want to stop being your own worst critic. Critics as a profession are detached from those they criticize, so they tend to be a little harsher and colder than they would if they were offering criticism to a trusted friend or family member.
But you are important to yourself, so act like it. Be compassionate, be forgiving, and above all recognize your humanity.
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Thought leaders & celebrities share their tactics for success on the Lisnic podcast by Lisa Teh & Nick Bell