Harvey Mackay Academy's Blog

Being Too Tough On Yourself

We all try to do our best, at least most of the time.  And when we don’t succeed, often we are our own harshest critics. 

But if you never give yourself a break, even doing your best is never going to be good enough.  The inner dialogue that’s going on can make it seem like your standards are impossibly high, and that you just aren’t cut out for success. 

Don’t get me wrong; demanding excellence of yourself and your performance at work are admirable goals.  But we all mess up occasionally, despite the best of intentions.  How you respond is what determines whether you can figure out what happened and move on, or put yourself in a negative downward spiral and surrender to failure.

Six helpful questions from Ruth and Gary Namie in “The Bully at Work: What You Can Do to Stop the Hurt and Reclaim Your Dignity on the Job,” can help you assess how you handle missteps at work. 

  • When you make an error or an oversight at work, do you criticize yourself harshly?
  • Before important meetings, job interviews or work assignments, are your thoughts negative – do you focus on all that might go wrong?
  • When you are running late, do you bombard yourself with harsh criticism, even before anyone else notices you are late?
  • Do you worry you will be found out and others will discover you’re not really able to do what is expected of you?
  • Do you lie awake criticizing yourself for anything that went wrong during the day, even though you didn’t have much control over what happened?
  • Have you ever said or thought to yourself that you are your own worst enemy?

The Namies say that if you answer yes to even just one of these questions, then your inner critique is in overdrive.

An article in “Psychology Today” suggests that low self-esteem is a natural result of overactive self-criticism.  That leads to a variety of problems that usually result in failure:  you stop taking risks to avoid making mistakes; you don’t express opinions in case you say something stupid or boring; and you compare yourself to others and are never satisfied with your achievements.

Then larger issues surface:  you stop asking for help; you think about hurting yourself; you get defensive; and you can’t forgive yourself or others. 

If you see yourself in any of these characteristics, you need to take action to reverse the negativity.  Don’t waste one more minute demeaning your worth. 

Remind yourself that you have plenty of valuable qualities that others depend on.  Forgive yourself for mistakes, repeating, “If I knew then what I know now, I would have taken a different approach.” 

List your accomplishments and refer to that list when you feel a pity party coming on.  Take a break!  A change of scenery can do wonders to lift your mood. 

Tell your negative inner voice you aren’t going to listen anymore.  Turn self-criticism around to self-correction.  Repeating a proactive message, like “we often learn as much from our failures as our successes,” is a great place to start.

A teacher challenged his class, “Raise your hand if you would like this $20 bill.”  Predictably, all hands went up in the air.

He crumpled the cash into a little ball.  “How about now?  Who still wants it?”  All the hands stayed up.

Next, he dropped the crumpled bill into a cup of coffee.  “Any takers?”  Not a hand went down.

The teacher fished the $20 bill out of the cup, dried it off, then dropped it on the floor and stepped on it.  “Does anyone want this dirty old thing?”

The students waved their hands wildly.

“But why?” the teacher asked.

“Because it’s $20!” one student shouted out.

“That’s correct,” the teacher replied.  “This bill retains its value even though it’s been put through all sorts of situations.  That’s what I want each of you to remember. 

“The circumstances you find yourselves in, the obstacles you overcome, and the failures you endure cannot diminish your value.  Always remember how special you are, and hold your head high so others will also recognize your value.”

Mackay’s Moral:  Life is full of ups and downs.  The trick is to keep getting up when you are down.  

About the Author Harvey Mackay

Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author of "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," with two books among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. He is one of America’s most popular and entertaining business speakers, and currently serves as Chairman at the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, one of the nation’s major envelope manufacturers, producing 25 million envelopes a day.

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