With all the challenges in our lives, one place we should be able to look for a supportive friend is within our own minds.  Despite this, many people are very hard on themselves – very critical and even demeaning.

Sometimes people believe that being hard on themselves makes them toe-the-line or do higher quality work more quickly.  Sometimes people say they were raised to be ‘humble’ and being very self critical fits this image.

The actual results of being self critical tend to be that people feel less hopeful, less confident and in the end, less effective.  Also, people who are very hard on themselves tend to be more self-focused (the opposite of humble or modest) than are people who focus their thoughts on actions: on solving problems and reaching successful outcomes.

People who are successful problem solvers first identify an outcome they want to achieve and then define the steps of getting there.  Even if they can’t solve all aspects of a problem or issue, they focus on the part in which they can make some – even small – effective changes.  Having this mindset is a very important goal.

Of course there’s an important place for a ‘review’ –  looking honestly and bravely at what’s working and what isn’t in the way we’ve performed in any given situation.  There’s also a place for ‘making amends’ – owning up to what we’ve done wrong that has hurt ourselves or others.

But if we could listen in on how people talk to themselves, we’d hear two distinct differences.  People who move forward in their lives do correct their own behavior and talk to themselves about “how things can go better next time.” However, they focus on actions.  “This was my goal. I think I accomplished these two things. I could do more if I do X, Y, and Z with more thought.  What steps should I use to get that done?”  Can you notice the focus is on ACTION?  In a way this is ‘criticism’, but it’s criticism with purpose and movement.

If we eavesdrop on the self talk of our second group, we would hear people attacking their character – not just their actions, but what kind of person they are. “You’re an idiot!  You’re a loser!  You’ll never change!  You’re hopeless!”  Can you notice how there is no movement here?  This is why it is so destructive.  We are all capable people, able to perform successful actions to bring about change. As soon as we start telling ourselves we’re unworthy and incapable, we get stuck.

Check next week for practical tips to help you move from a victim (stuck) mindset to an effective (action) mindset.