“Beating yourself up” means thinking negative thoughts in your head or saying them out loud. Thoughts like these can be extremely damaging and sneaky:
- I’m not good enough (this is the one I struggle with the most!)
- I’m so overwhelmed
- I’m out of shape
- I can’t do it
Notice how all four are violent. They are all things I have thought. I didn’t realize how much they held me back. As Brooke Castillo says, when you think these things, it’s like stabbing yourself with a knife. We can empathize with you and say we’re sorry you’re bleeding, or we can point out the knives. Review the list of my knives above, and then notice:
Then comes the pain and you want to stop it: with food, with anger, with a Netflix binge (anyone else tear through Grace and Frankie as fast as I did?).
But wait a minute. Put down the bagel. Pause. Why not stop stabbing yourself?
It may not be easy to stop stabbing yourself, because, like me, you might have become really good at it. You’ve done it a lot. It’s almost automatic! But, you can practice another habit: being compassionate. Here’s how: Notice the knife. Pay attention. Get curious. Be interested. Don’t add more knives (Why am I so crazy? Why are my thoughts such a disaster?), just get curious about your butcher’s block. What’s in it?
In other words, what are you thinking? This question changes everything.
When I first started writing down my thoughts and noticing what I was thinking when I was frustrated, I couldn’t believe how often I was telling myself that I could be better at everything. Rarely was anything I did good enough… for myself. How sad is that? Then, I felt embarrassed that my thoughts were so crazy. But, that doesn’t help either! It’s just another knife.
What helps is to have compassion for yourself. Yes, I think negative things. You think negative things. They are just thoughts. So what? We all think scary and painful things. We all try to protect ourselves with fears. I have my students write their fears of public speaking on the board and they fill it up! Top to bottom! I’ve thought that I’m not good enough probably a million times. So what?
It’s ok. We’re human. Everyone struggles… but understanding your thoughts is a much easier way to survive. I can’t tell you how much relief I have found from knowing that I am not my thoughts. I am a compassionate observer of my brain. I can notice my patterns. I can be curious. If I want to, I can change. I can choose to think anything I want.
When you’re ready to change (it will take time to break a habit), here are some alternatives I like:
- It’s ok
- Nothing is wrong
- I am not my thoughts
- My thoughts are there to teach me
Eventually, with practice, you can dull your knives. They won’t ever go away, because they are important tools. They’re trying to get your attention, and that’s ok. What can you learn? How can you be kind to yourself? Do you need a break? Do you need to set a boundary with someone? Do you crave something new? Do you really need a mini-vacation? Isn’t it time you watched Grace and Frankie on Netflix?
Thoughts are so fascinating. Pay attention to them. They can help you succeed, but sometimes they can turn into knives and stab you. That’s ok! Just notice the knives, stop sharpening them, and start to let yourself heal. You deserve it. Even if you don’t think it right now, you are amazing.
So, put down the freaking knife. Let’s get busy living our dreams.