Maybe you’ve been there. Nobody else sees it. But you do.
You know the quality of the work you just turned in to your boss isn’t your best. Not nearly. If only you’d had more time.
Maybe your boss will see it for the junk that it is. Maybe he’ll call you out. Maybe even pass you over for a promotion. If only you’d been smarter.
“Stupid, stupid, stupid,” you tell yourself.
But let me tell you something. You’re not stupid. You judge yourself too harshly. Probably much harsher than your boss ever will.
As painful as this is, you’re not alone. Most people judge others harshly and are even harder on themselves.
Why You Are Your Own Worst Critic
It’s hard to avoid. We live in a culture that runs on dissatisfaction and judgment. It starts in school where your report card, your classmates, your teacher all evaluate your performance, constantly. They may even tell themselves you need to hear the truth. That they’re being good to you.
Advertisers tell you incessantly that you’re not thin enough, not smart enough, not liked enough, not sexy enough, and not lucky enough to find your true love, to live happily ever after. All that bashing, so that you feel compelled to buy their wonderful, miracle product.
And don’t get me started on your parents.
There’s a way out of this hell. You can stop being your own worst critic. It doesn’t happen overnight, but if you follow the three steps below, you’ll be on your way to becoming your most helpful and caring friend.
Step 1: Leave Your Critic
Your Critic is not You — Get some distance to get perspective
If you’re like I was, then your critic isn’t separate from you. It’s always there, looking over your shoulder, watching, monitoring. It probably even thinks it’s helping you, trying to keep you on track.
But the negativity is hard to bear. Your critic is always finding fault. It chips away at your self-confidence. At its worst, your critic triggers crippling bouts of self-loathing.
That must change. Yet, how do you throw yourself out?
It begins by separating yourself from your critic. Understanding that your critic is not you, but a voice within you.
In mindfulness meditation, you’re told that you’re not your thoughts and you’re not your feelings. You put distance between yourself, the real you, and the thoughts and feelings that run through your mind.
Likewise, you are not your critic.
More than likely, you picked up your critical voice from others. Others who should have known better than to be so harsh with the child you were. Such criticism is not an act of love but an act of power. They had the power to force their thoughts into yours. And they did.
Use rage or logic, but either way, think of your critic as an alien inside of you. Not you. Address the critic when you hear its voice. “Why are you talking to me that way? What did I do to deserve such treatment? You are not me, and I don’t have to do what you say.” You might want to even name this critic so you remind yourself it’s not you.
With enough “you” vs “me” talk, you gain the distance to both ignore the critic’s power and to observe it for what it does. Remember, you didn’t put it there.
List the Impacts the Critic Has
In this step, you’re gathering the evidence you need to evict the critic. You are building your resolve to leave.
Make a list of five to ten things the critic does to hurt you. Does the critic spoil your good mood? Sap your motivation? Send you into depression? Claim you’re an impostor?
At the same time, list the consequences of listening to the critic. Did it stop you from applying for a job because you “suck” and won’t get hired? Did you lose a relationship because the critic told you that you weren’t lovable? Maybe you worry all the time that you’ll be discovered for the impostor you are?
Remember, the critic is not you. It may even want to hurt you. And it definitely doesn’t want to be evicted from its warm, comfortable host, so it will lie to you and tell you how much you need it.
Build your case for eviction.
Imagine a Life Without The Critic
Review your list to see what you’ve been missing. Think of all the good things you could have if you just didn’t have this critic weighing you down.
For each item on the list of wrongs, reword it to the benefit you gain without the critic.
For each item on the list of benefits, who else benefits besides you? Imagine how your loved ones will appreciate the critic-free you. You all deserve it.
Step 2: Do What You Can, Then Improve What You Do
You Can Only Do What You Can
Any time you’re performing, you can only do what you can currently do. As long as you’re giving your best, you have done all you can.
Does that sound like an excuse? Like you’re not holding yourself to a high standard? Then stop and read the sentence again. Is it possible to do better than your best, at that moment?
Focus on the italics. That’s the thing about performance. It can always be improved, next time. But doing your best, is, well, doing your best.
Another way to put it is, you haven’t failed until you quit trying.
Cut off the critic by asking yourself, what did I do right? What should I do the same way, again? Then, ask what could make the performance even stronger.
Do you need to practice more? Get help? Change the amount of time you have for a given performance? You have many options to improve the next performance.
Define Your Performance Quality
The next time you have to do something that you often get criticized for, make a list of the quality needed for what you’ll do. Be fair. Don’t expect unreasonable things.
If you need to, ask a colleague or friend to confirm the list.
What you’re doing is making sure you know what quality is so the critic can’t change the rules later.
Keep that list in mind as you perform.
Now, examine your performance, using the list. Go back through the dialog from before. What did you do well, and why? What can you change to improve what you do the next time?
Remember, your best is all you can do, at that moment. Your best will be better next time.
Catch Your Critic Doing Bad Things
Even with a list of qualities, the critic will try to invade your thoughts, especially when your confidence is low or when you’re performing below the expected quality. Remember this is your best work and that you’ll learn from the situation how to be better next time.
Right now, since you know what it does, you can catch the critic starting to be critical and shut it off. The sooner you catch it, the smaller its impact will be.
One other thing to keep in mind is the critic wants to criticize you. By making you nervous, it wants you to perform worse than you could otherwise. Get mad and evict it from your mind so you can do your best.
This process takes time, so don’t be discouraged. Catching your critic is a performance, too. One that you can improve.
Step 3: Live Your Best Life
Don’t Accept Less for Yourself
Someone else inserted your critic. It lives with you because you tolerate its presence and interference with living your best life.
You have spent your life getting to this point, so removing your critic will take time. For some, it’s much harder than others. Don’t give up. You don’t truly fail unless you quit trying.
An effective tool for making progress is writing about your thoughts and feelings. You can, on the one hand, emphasize positive steps and effort you’re making. On the other, you can analyze how the critic enlists you in your own criticism.
So, remind yourself to accept nothing less than living your best, most positive life. Revisit your reasons from step one.
Enlist Allies from Your Friends and Loved Ones
Don’t do this alone. Others can see you more clearly than you see yourself.
Talk to a friend who doesn’t judge you but who will give you honest and caring feedback. You need all three attributes. Explain what you’re doing and ask if they’d be willing to observe a performance and give you feedback on strengths and improvements.
Your friend can give you feedback on your performance analysis and help you detect the voice of the critic. Your friend can also help you make your improvements stronger.
Don’t Stop Trying
The most pernicious critics can take several years to remove. Some of the most successful people have the toughest critics because they see the critics as part of their success formula. Fortunately, improvement can start right away.
Try different things. For some, the friend is the key to critic eviction. For others, changing bosses may be what it takes, if they’re especially judgmental.
Sometimes, just working on being non-judgmental with others, and supporting their positive growth, can be the practice they need to then practice on themselves.
Be inventive, and don’t stop trying.
Do It Now — It Gets Worse Until You Rescue Yourself
Your self-criticism harms your potential, keeps you locked down, and blocks any of the benefits you listed.
Each day of negative criticism, no matter how well-intentioned it seems, adds to the load from yesterday. Day after day it compounds like interest on a credit card. Dragging you lower and lower.
The sooner that stops, the sooner you can really start your life.
Your critic may be like a bad roomie, one who abuses and ridicules you but compensates by buying pizza now and then.
Maybe your critic drives you to succeed. But ask yourself, if you really had a passion for what you’re doing, would you need fear and abuse to keep going?
The sooner you throw your critic out, the sooner you stop the damage. When you replace your critic with your kind improvements and get help from your friends and loved ones, you begin to grow, to redefine who you want to be, and truly transform your life.
Commit to yourself to live your best life day after day.
Put a date one year from now on your calendar to look back to see how far you’ve come.
Originally published on medium.com.