When Are You Kind to Yourself and When Are You Not?

I spoke with a writer the other day. He said mean things about himself—that he was a bad writer. (Not true.) That he didn’t make time to write. (True.) That no one would want to read his articles. (Definitely not true.)

Sometimes, we give ourselves too much leeway for our mistakes—we are too kind to ourselves. We let ourselves ignore our commitments to ourselves.

Other times, as with this writer, we don’t see ourselves for who and what we really are.

I don’t know anyone who’s perfect all the time. Some people might be perfect some of the time—and I do not count myself in that group. However, when we are unkind to ourselves, we might not even try to accomplish the work the next time.

I asked my colleague why he was unkind to himself. His answer: “I don’t deserve any better. I let myself down.” (When he didn’t make time for writing.)

What would he do about it? We brainstormed several ideas. Of course, I went meta and asked if he had considered these alternatives.

“No, because I was so focused on what I didn’t do.”

When I’m unkind to myself, I stop thinking—which is exactly what this writer did. Sure, we need to see our reality and—possibly—admonish ourselves. But being mean, nasty, unkind to ourselves? If berating ourselves prevents us from new ideas, why be unkind?

Kindness is Different from Permission

Kindness is not permission to not do—or avoid—the work. However, when I work with writers (and managers), here’s how they explain their thinking:

  • If we are kind to ourselves, we give ourselves permission to not do the work.
  • If we give ourselves permission to not do the work, we will not succeed.
  • Therefore, we must be unkind to ourselves.

That’s not what I see in practice:

  • If we are kind to ourselves and offer a “not yet” or “until now,” we give ourselves permission to learn.
  • When we give ourselves permission to learn, we also give ourselves permission to experiment. (Or to try.)
  • The more we give ourselves permission to experiment, the more possibilities we can create to succeed.
  • Therefore, the kinder we are to ourselves, the more we can learn how to succeed the next time.

When I see people being unkind to themselves, I see the fixed mindset. “I don’t have the talent to do this work.” And when I ask, “Would you talk to another person this way?” they say, “No! I would not do that.” (I might, but these people are nicer than I am.)

That’s when I ask, “Why do you talk to yourself that way?”

They get the “Ooooh look.”

On the other hand, when I see people being kind to themselves (and still realizing they haven’t done the work), I see the growth mindset.

I might not be happy with my performance—so far. When I am kind and firm with myself, I often realize I can use small changes to achieve my goals. I don’t have to tear my self-esteem down. Instead, I can start smaller and build my self-esteem up.

We do need to see our reality. When have we done and not done the work we planned to do?

However, we don’t need to speak unkindly to ourselves. Regardless of whether we have or have not done the work.

That’s the question this week: When are you kind to yourself and when are you not?

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