Overcoming Self-Criticism

Self-CriticismWhen you look in the mirror are you happy with who you see? If you are like most people you will tend to see your own faults over your qualities. It’s amazing how critical and judgmental we can be with ourselves. It can suck the vitality and energy out of our life if we are constantly chipping away at who we are. It’s like trying to blow up a balloon with a pin hole in it. It takes constant effort. Our incessant internal criticism and judgment deflates our self-esteem faster than we can fill it.

A certain amount of self-analysis is good and healthy. If not, we would never make any improvements in our lives. We need to examine ourselves from time to time and determine the areas we need to improve on. However, this can be overdone to the point of being hyper-critical and counter-productive. You become your own judge, jury and jailer.

What are the causes of Self-Criticism?

1. Comparing ourselves with others. We are great at putting ourselves down because we know ourselves the best. We are intimately and painfully aware of each of our faults. The trouble is, when we look at others we tend to see the polished and refined exterior and are unaware of the flaws and internal conflicts that they battle with each day. We tend to compare the worst in ourselves with the best in others. We can never win that game.

2. Unrealistic expectations of ourselves. It’s good to set goals and strive to make improvements in our lives. We should strive for excellence. However, some of us mistake perfection for excellence. When the goals we set are so high and out of reach for the average human being then we set ourselves up for failure.

3. Not realizing life is a process. Journeys are accomplished one step at a time. Bodies are grown one cell at a time. Buildings are built one brick at a time. These are all processes that are accomplished in a gradual, procedural way.

Imagine driving by a building under construction. What do you see? Half-built walls, pallets of bricks, scaffolding, unpainted surfaces, weeds and debris – it’s not a pretty sight. Imagine criticizing the building because of these flaws. That would be unreasonable because we know it isn’t finished yet. It’s under construction. Yet we fail to consider that our lives are not finished yet either. We are still under construction. Of course everything isn’t in perfect order yet. We are still in the middle of this process called “Life.”

What are the consequences of Self-Criticism?

1. Incorrect vision of ourselves. When we continually focus on our flaws and imperfections we get to the point of identifying ourselves as our flaws and imperfections. That’s who we become in our mind. Instead of thinking “I have a weight problem” we instead think “I’m fat.” It becomes who we are.

2. The “Why Try?” attitude. Since we identify ourselves with our defects and believe that’s who we are, then we feel like “what’s the use” in trying to change since that’s “just the way I am.” If you see yourself as a zebra then why try to change your stripes. It’s simply who you are.

3. Saps energy. It takes energy and effort to be constantly judging ourselves. Experiencing discouragement and disappointment in ourselves is like dragging around a heavy weight. It wears on you and drains your energy.

How can we overcome Self-Criticism?

1. Pay attention to what’s going on in your head. Make an effort throughout the day to be aware of how you talk to yourself in your mind. What are you saying?

“I’m such a loser”
“I’m so ugly”
“I never have enough money”
“I’m so fat”
“I’m such an idiot”

Be aware of these negative jabs at yourself and rein them in. Take control of your thoughts and shut down the negative ones.

2. Lower your unrealistic expectations. Give yourself a break. It’s okay if you’re not perfect. You’re not done yet. You’re still under construction as a person. I’m not talking about lowering your personal convictions or your personal moral standards – just your unrealistic expectations of yourself.

3. Focus on your good points. Start noticing what you are doing right. Focus on the positive things you accomplish every day. Make a list of all the things you are doing well and give yourself a pat on the back. Notice even small steps of forward progress.

T.S. Eliot wrote:

What is this self inside us, this silent observer,
Severe and speechless critic, who can terrorize us
And urge us on to futile activity
And in the end, judge us still more severely
For the errors into which his own reproaches drove us?

When you truly overcome self-criticism you free your mind and energy to move forward in your life. You are not stuck in Paralysis by Analysis. You become at peace with who you are and where you are headed. Remember, there is only one person in the world that you are compelled to live with – and that is with yourself. It’s best you both get along!

Thank you.

Copyright © 2013 Gary N. Larson

Self-Pity – The ‘Luxury’ You Can’t Afford

Self-PerceptionTragedy and misfortune strike people every day. We open the newspaper and read about terrible things that happen to others. We ourselves are not immune to having bad things happen in our lives. As bad as these things are, there is something even worse than the tragedy itself. It is self-pity.

You can see how this can happen. People get immersed in a horrible experience and their energy is sapped and their defenses are down and it becomes easy to fall into the trap of self-pity. They begin to dwell on their hurts and hardships, whether real or imagined, and begin to enjoy talking about them and sharing them with others.

Self-Pity a Luxury?

Why do I call it a luxury? The dictionary tells us that a luxury is something we indulge in, is something we enjoy, is costly and is not necessary. Self-pity fits that description perfectly.

Wallowing in self-pity, like all habits, is hard to overcome once we become accustomed to it. We become comfortable with it and find that it’s hard to do without. We look for others to commiserate and sympathize with. But self-pity is unproductive. It causes us to be bitter and unforgiving and resentful. Self-pity doesn’t bring people together – it divides them. When you throw a pity party, you are the only invited guest.

Self-Pity and Self-Image

Self-pity allows us to feel that we are victims. It’s how we begin to define ourselves. It creates a distorted feeling of security. It gives us an excuse for not trying. It creates in us a “What’s-the-use attitude.” It’s been said that the nice thing about self-pity is that if you can’t get others to feel sorry for you, you can still feel sorry for yourself.

Self-Pity and Self-Destruction

I’ve known people who have been in horrible marriages. Maybe their spouse had a problem with drugs or gambling or is an alcoholic. They have experienced untold suffering. We know they have because of their constant complaining to others. They are continually looking for a shoulder to cry on. Their life seems to always be full of drama.

Strange as it may seem, when that person finally ends the relationship they are unhappy. They have nothing to complain about anymore. No one feels sorry for them anymore. They don’t get the attention they once had. They no longer have a crutch to lean on and are expected to live a normal life just like everybody else. This is a real blow.

Invariably the injured person goes out and marries someone as bad or worse than their first spouse. They find another drug-addict, wife-beater, alcoholic or gambler to marry so they can indulge in self-pity again.

It’s natural for us at times to feel sorry for ourselves. We’ve all done it before and in reality it can help ease the pain of our trials. But when it turns into who we are and we continue to dwell on it and convince ourselves that we are victims and are in the hands of some uncontrollable fate, then it becomes detrimental to our well being.

If we permit ourselves to dwell upon our past hurts and injuries we are more likely to use them to justify our yielding to other destructive habits such as over-eating or drinking. We seem to think, “You would do the same if it happened to you.”

Self-Pity is for Losers

This may sound harsh but there are some who are losers because they want to be losers. They may not even be aware of it yet it is true. If things start to go well for them they get worried and concerned. They feel it can’t last. They then begin to self-sabotage their success. Why? Because they have become so used to feeling a certain way that the new feelings are uncomfortable to them. Since they have concluded that a loser is who they are then success is out of harmony with their self-image. They can’t stand that feeling.

It reminds me of a time when I needed to stop over at my church to pick up some papers. I was in my grubby work-in-the-yard clothes. I just needed to run in, grab what I needed, and leave. As I entered the church I realized there was another event taking place and everyone there was dressed in their Sunday best. I felt so out of place. I felt so uncomfortable. I wanted to get out of there as soon as I could and get back into the dirty and grimy environment of my yard work. I think that is why some people feel so uncomfortable when things start to go good in their lives. It is not compatible with the concept they have of themselves.

Overcoming Self-Pity

The solution is to realize that your unhappiness is caused by your self-centeredness. When you are continually focused on yourself it comes at the price of excluding all others. This self-absorption is like a fence around you that keeps out those who could lend you a hand. You have to take the focus off yourself and begin to see that there are those around you who also have trials and struggles in their lives and you can be someone they can lean on. And as you open up and reach out to help others, they in turn can help you.

Another way out of self-pity is through forgiveness – meaning your forgiveness of others. As you begin to forgive others of the perceived hurts and wrongs they have committed towards you, you can begin to heal and let go of the pain and self-pity. Is this easy? Not by a long shot. Is it necessary? Absolutely.

Helen Keller said,

Self-pity is our worst enemy and if we yield to it, we can never do anything good in the world.

Let us rise above self-pity and use our efforts and energies for more fulfilling and positive endeavors. Thank you.

Copyright © 2013 Gary N. Larson

Are You a Conversation Hijacker?

Conversation Hijacker

A hijacker is someone who seizes control of a plane or a car or even a conversation. Are you one of them?

I spotted a hijacker recently. It was at a social gathering of neighbors and friends. It was interesting for me to observe the people there and how they interacted with each other. I noticed one woman in particular, a neighbor of mine. You could never tell by looking at her, but by golly, she was a hijacker!

I have spoken with her in the past and she has expressed her frustrations at making friends. She says no one is interested in her, that nobody cares about her. And she doesn’t understand why.

The problem is that every time you are with her she immediately begins to talk about herself, and it’s nearly always about her health problems. You barely get past “hello” and she will immediately dive right in and start describing her last doctor’s appointment and explain it all in great detail – much more detail than most people want to hear. She’ll go on and on. Frankly, I don’t understand most of what she’s saying. She uses medical terms and concepts that I have no clue what they mean. I try to be a polite person and a good listener and I’ll nod my head and say “really” and “my goodness” once in a while. I wish I really understood what she was saying but I don’t! And honestly it’s very tedious to listen to her and very difficult to get out of the conversation.

The social gathering was a casual dinner at my neighbor’s home. I arrived a little later than most people and as I walked into the dining area I passed this woman. There she was talking to a lady about her latest medical problems. And with her, that’s pretty much the way it always is.

Several weeks ago I was out working in my yard. I had dug a big hole to repair some sprinkler valves. I enjoy that kind of work. It’s kind of fun to work with my hands and get some dirt under my nails. I’m a “fix-it” kind of a guy. So there I was working on my sprinklers when this neighbor walked up to me and began to talk. I didn’t really mind because I could work while she talked. I would nod my head and say “uh-huh” once in a while as she went on.

Well, she talked the whole time I was there working on my sprinklers, which was a good 2 ½ to 3 hours. It really didn’t bother me because I was getting something done, so she could talk all she wanted. She just kept going on and on and on telling me her whole medical history in microscopic detail. I just let her go at it. I knew it would make her feel better and she appreciated having somebody to listen to her.

After talking all this time something interesting happened. She suddenly stopped talking and was silent for a few moments. I think for the first time in a long time she actually ran out of things to say. Then she looked at me and said, “What are you doing there anyway?” I said, “I’m fixing these sprinkler valves.” She then asked me what was wrong with the sprinklers and I told her. For the next few moments she was actually interested in me and what I was doing.

Frankly, it was a remarkable event. It was the first time in all the time that I’ve known her that she has ever asked something about me and was interested in something I was doing. It was so refreshing. What a different feeling it was for me to have her actually interested in me.

Maybe you know somebody like that. Maybe you are somebody like that. Perhaps you are and you don’t even know it! I honestly think this neighbor of mine has no idea how she comes across to people. Maybe someday I will take her aside and we’ll have a little chat and I’ll explain to her the concept that if you want friends and you want people to be interested in you, you have to be interested in them. You’ve got to ask and talk about the other person. That’s the sign of a quality relationship when it’s a two-way conversation.

I encourage you to examine your interactions with others to determine if you are unintentionally hijacking the conversation. If the other person is glancing at their watch or their eyes are glazing over, you might have a problem. Make people glad they talked with you. Be interested in them and attentive to what they have to say. Those are the markings of a healthy, positive conversation.

The Self-Mastery Muscle

Weight TrainingGood morning! I want to talk about equating Self Mastery to a muscle. Think about the muscles in your body and how you go about exercising them. Have you have ever gone to a gym and lifted weights on a bench press before? Suppose you’ve never done this and you decide you’re going to get in shape by lifting weights at the gym. You start your training by putting 300 pounds of weights on the barbell. When you go to lift the barbell with 300 pounds on it, guess what? You’re going to fail! There’s no doubt about it, you’re going to fail. It’s just too much weight for you to lift. You can’t start off lifting 300 pounds! You have to start off with any easy weight, a weight you can manage, something that you’re able and capable of lifting.

When you work on muscles, you have to start off with a weight you can lift and then gradually work your way up. So maybe you have to start off at 110 pounds. Let’s say you do the 110 pounds for a while and you do it long enough to where it now becomes easier. So the next thing you do is you add 10 pounds to that. Now you’re lifting 120 pounds. You work on that for a while until it becomes easier. When 120 pounds becomes easier then you add 10 more pounds. You continue on up like this, gradually adding more and more weight to strengthen the muscles in your arms.

We can relate it also to running. I can remember training for my first marathon. A marathon is 26.2 miles long. My good wife Lisa was my trainer. We didn’t start off by doing a 26-mile run. We didn’t even start off doing a 5-mile run. I don’t think I had ever even run more than five miles in my life. I couldn’t even run a full mile when I began my training. I’ll never forget the first time we ran three miles. I distinctly remember that when we completed the three miles I collapsed on the ground gasping for air. I remember that I was so thrilled that I had actually run three miles! It was a major accomplishment for me.

The way we trained for the marathon was to run two miles every morning, Monday through Thursday, and then rest on Friday. Then on Saturdays we would do a long run. Each Saturday morning we would add a mile or two to our long runs. So our first long run was three miles. Then the next week our long run was four miles. Then five miles the next week. Gradually, week after week, we worked our way up to where our final training run before the marathon was 24 miles. I remember that day, running the 24-mile long run, and thinking back to our first three-mile run and thinking, “Wow! Three miles is nothing! Running three miles is so easy!” Now we were running 24 miles! We worked up to it gradually over time. If we would have tried to run 24 miles that first day it would have been a huge failure and I would have given up and would have never completed a marathon.

So how does that relate to self-mastery? Well, every thing about a marathon is self-mastery! But a marathon, like weight lifting, teaches us that you can’t do it all at once and this applies to self-mastery in other areas of your life. You can’t change everything all at once.

So I’m relating this all to self-mastery and the changes that you want to make in your life. If self-mastery is like a muscle then you must work on it like you would work on a muscle. You must strengthen that self-mastery muscle by starting off with small and easy things and then gradually work your way up.

So how do you do this? I suggest you look at your life and determine what needs to change. Make a list of all the changes you would like to make. Then take one thing and focus on it. Work on it for a week or two until it becomes easy for you. Then begin the next thing. Gradually strengthen your self-mastery muscle one change at a time.

I have been doing this for a while. In fact I started on August 1st of this year and made some major commitments to myself of changes I desire to make.

More recently, as part of this process, I have focused on exercising every morning except Sundays. That’s what I focused on and now it has become a habit and even perhaps an addiction – a positive addiction.

Currently I am focused on getting to bed on time every night. When I get good at that then I will move on to my next goal. I have a series of improvements that I want to make in my life that I call my self-mastery goals. I can’t do them all at once. So I work on one thing at a time until it becomes a habit, until I strengthen that self-mastery muscle. Then I move on to the next one.

So in summary, the message for today is that self-mastery is like a muscle which needs to be exercised in a gradual, progressive way. Examine your life, determine what you want to change, and then work on one thing at a time.

Master Yourself, Master Your Life

Thank you.

Copyright © 2013 Gary N. Larson