Science knows why.
Psychology research broke through in 1998 when scientists from Ohio State University proved the theory of negativity bias, i.e. the brain reacts more strongly to negative input than positive (there’s a stronger surge of electrical activity in the brain in response to negative events). Thus, our mindset is more at the whim of bad news than good.
This ties to our caveman/cavewoman days where the brain helped keep us out of danger. The problem is, this bias makes negative things seem more negative than they really are. And, to make matters worse, what we’ve evolved to is (and raise your hand if this sounds familiar) you move way too quickly past your successes and pound yourself into oblivion on your failures.
Guilty as charged.
And dwelling on our negative outcomes, spiraling down into more self-negativity, makes things worse. Psychotherapy research from Vanderbilt University’s Divya Kannan shows this spiraling can lead to depression, anxiety, preoccupation with failure, further lack of motivation and productivity, or worse.
So what’s the way out? Psychologist Dr. Kristin Neff from the University of Texas at Austin says it’s called self-compassion.
As Neff told the New York Times (edited for clarity):
“Research shows the number one barrier to self-compassion is fear of being complacent and losing your edge. But research shows that’s not true. It’s just the opposite. Self-compassion can lead to greater achievement than self-criticism ever could.”
We often aren’t aware of when we’re most in need of self-compassion, so here’s help. Catch yourself in the midst of these six common ways of pummeling yourself, then airlift yourself out.
1. Prematurely concluding that you suck at something.
Whether you buy into Josh Kaufman’s TEDx talk that it takes 20 hours to get good at something or Malcolm Gladwell’s pronouncement that it takes 10,000 hours (to become one of the best at something), notice that nowhere on that scale does “master it in one try” fall.
Give yourself permission to suck for a while. Everyone goes through learning curves. Sir James Dyson apparently really sucked (pun intended) at building vacuum cleaners because he told ABC National Radio that it took him 5,126 failed prototypes before he landed on his first working Dyson vacuum. What if he’d drawn incorrect conclusions about himself too early?
2. Habitually comparing yourself to others.
Social media doesn’t help here. We get drawn into comparing our blooper reels to everyone else’s highlight reels, and it spills over to constantly comparing ourselves to peers. The more we compare to someone else the more we’re subject to someone else’s expectations (it’s hard enough to live up to our own). We lose sight of our definition of success and have in sight way too much what others might be thinking of us.
I still struggle with comparing myself to others but a one sentence reminder helps me break out of it: The only comparison that matters is to who I was yesterday. Am I now a better version?
3. Berating yourself for your differences.
We think our differences make us lesser than, but they make us greater than.
I wish I had a dime for every time I berated myself for my differences, for feeling lesser than in comparison too, for failing to see that my unique approach to the world has me improving every day in my own way. You simply must believe this too, because it’s true.
4. Forgetting what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Yup, it’s a platitude. So then why are we so unforgiving of our mistakes? Mistakes/failures happen for you, not to you. For you so you can grow stronger each day, even if it doesn’t feel like you are.
5. Letting your inner monologue run you.
I interviewed a renowned hypnotherapist for Find the Fire to understand why we continually let our disempowering inner-monologue take over. Bottom line: deep down, many of us believe that we’re not good enough.
Sadly, this belief is most often based on a misperception/personal experience taken the wrong way. It’s a workplace epidemic; we beat ourselves up, project our “not good enough” onto others, and then it gets volleyed right back, spiraling everyone downward.
Keep your inner-dialogue in check and remind yourself that you are indeed, enough.
6. Not putting criticism in its place.
Not all criticism is created equal. Decide who gets to criticize you, dismiss the rest. For those that make the cut, think of their criticism as having the same intent as that of movie critics–in the spirit of creating better art, i.e. a better version of you.