It’s me who is my enemy.
Me who beats me up.
Me who makes the monsters.
Me who strips my confidence.
~Paula Cole, “Me,” This Fire
Are you FOR yourself or AGAINST yourself?
As much as we would love to blame external factors for not having the life we wish for, the fact is that most of the time the responsibility lies with us, it’s just that we are unaware of it. We want to make things right, but there is always something that acts as an obstacle between us and our goals. Could that obstacle be simply us?
Check out these usual attitudes that could answer the question:
1. You constantly compare yourself to others
I used to love painting. I still like the idea of it, of a thick full brush and the smell of acrylics, but I don’t do it much these days because I got quite frustrated in the end – my work never looked as good as those of artists I admired. “I would like to do something like she does”, I would tell my art teacher. “What technique is she using, because I want to do something like that”. And then of course, I would try to copy this artist and, inevitably, fail terribly.
Wisdom and logic (and I guess common sense) say that comparing yourself to others in a critical way is an absolute waste of energy and talent. If we are reasonable about it, we cannot compare our performance as a beginner to someone who has worked harder and longer to have the experience and knowledge he or she has now. As Justin Zoradi so clearly said it: “you can’t compare the beginning of your journey with another person’s middle or end”. But even if we make a comparison to another person at the same section of the journey, what’s the use? Why do we want to be as good or better than others? Why would we want to compete?“If I am not for myself, who will be?” ~Pirke Avoth Click To Tweet
But logic doesn’t always win over emotions (does it ever?) and we keep doing it. We compare our talent and abilities with our colleagues, and we do so without taking into consideration other aspects, like (early) life experiences, education, family life, social status, to name a few.
On a social level, it is not unusual that we compare our success to that of our friends or acquaintances. Admittedly, having Facebook or Instagram as “life displays” doesn’t help much. There are so many photos posted of people at super cool parties, travelling to fancy places, having stylish meals… and you find yourself there staring at your phone. Needless to say we shouldn’t pay much attention to what we see on social networks: people on social media show themselves as they want to be seen. They will avoid showing their life is boring, that the parties they go to may actually not be fun, and that they have struggles too.
A lot has been said about cultivating our own talents and personality from various disciplines. Sir Ken Robinson, a well-known philosopher in the field of education, strongly promotes individuality rather than the standardization of people. “Human life is inherently creative. It’s why we all have different résumés. We create our lives, and we can recreate them as we go through them. It’s the common currency of being a human being. It’s why human culture is so interesting and diverse and dynamic.”
“If You Judge a Fish by Its Ability to Climb a Tree, It Will Live Its Whole Life Believing that It is Stupid.”
Don’t waste your time and energy trying to be like someone else. We all have different talents and that’s where we should focus. You should try to find out the reason why you are comparing yourself and address it. Imagine if we were all the same, how boring would that be? We all have something particular to bring to our life and work. As John Mason said: “you were born an original, don’t die a copy”.“You were born an original. Don’t die a copy” ~John Mason Click To Tweet
2. You are too hard on yourself
So every time I got a brush, my acrylics and a canvas, I would say to myself “Let’s do something that rocks”. Clearly, something that was meant to be a hobby, that was supposed to make me relax, became a job and soon this inner critic would appear in my mind pointing at the mistakes I was doing: “Background is not looking good”, “look at the disaster you’ve made of her face”, “this is nothing like I had in my mind. This is horrible”. And so on. (Funny. Writing about this reminded me of this hilarious video that went viral some 5 years ago of a girl trying to sing Whitney Houston’s “I will always love you” and getting furious at herself for not doing it right. I’m glad to say that I never reached such a level).
Every time we find ourselves over-criticizing our own actions and work, and setting ourselves ridiculously high expectations on our performance, we should take some distance and look at it from a different perspective. Imagine the following scenario: a mum is constantly asking her child to get excellent marks in school, to score in maths as well as in sports and, maybe, in music as well. The kid is under a lot of pressure to do well, but he can’t; he collapses and starts to fail. What would you think of that mum? And what would you think of that child?
Well then, I’m afraid there is not much difference between that mum and our own attitude towards ourselves.
This over-critical attitude and this idea that we should excel at what we do (that is, a self-imposed, self-oriented perfectionism) is strictly related to our self-esteem and to what we think of ourselves.
This site names a few other situations in which our inner critic usually shows up:
- when we are feeling depressed or down,
- when we meet strangers and people we find sexually attractive,
- situations in which we have made a mistake,
- situations in which we feel criticized and defensive,
- situations in which we feel hurt,
- situations in which someone has been angry at us, and
- in conversations with anyone who might be disapproving.
Psychologist Rebecca Lyon said that “people with low self esteem usually have a strong “inner critic”, a loud internal voice that can take anything about themselves or something they did or said and make it into something wrong or bad.”“It's not who you are that holds you back, it's who you think you're not.” ~Hanoch McCarty Click To Tweet
Solutions? There could be many and this topic deserves an article for itself, but one smart and easy way to start would be to identify the moment when this inner critic appears and treat ourselves as we would treat our best friend. If we were supportive, kind and understanding with our friend, then we should act the same way with ourselves.
3. You are too afraid to make mistakes
This is actually quite a big and widespread problem, socially and professionally. We give mistakes too much importance, we treat them as if our reputation could be at stake. We have this fear that if we make a mistake, people may think that we are stupid. We put far too much weight on the (perceived) negative consequences of failing at something than on the benefits if we allow ourselves to try new things and experiment a bit.
The reality is that lack of failure equals lack of risk-taking, which is required in any creative process and for any meaningful experience. “Failure isn’t necessarily evil. In fact, it isn’t evil at all. It is the necessary consequence of doing something new”, says Ed Catmull, President of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios.
“Having some fear of mistakes can be a good thing because it can help to improve your performance”, says Martin Antony Ph.D, co-author of When Perfect Isn’t Good Enough. But excessive fear causes problems. For instance, you might start avoiding fear-provoking situations. “[People] may avoid social situations for fear of making some sort of blunder, and they may procrastinate for fear of not being able to complete a task perfectly,”
Ed Catmull also said: “while experimentation is scary to many, I would argue that we should be far more terrified of the opposite approach”.
We all make mistakes and, while it is comforting to know that we are not alone, if you’ve messed it up, the last thing you will need is to punish yourself. What’s done is done and there is no way to change it. Forgive yourself for screwing up – you are only human, nobody expects you to be perfect, just you. Learn from experiences, see how they can be prevented in the future and move on.
“Confidence comes not from always being right but from not fearing to be wrong.” ~Peter T. McIntyre
4. You give yourself excuses to do things later
You are not totally happy with your life, you know that there are a few things you could start doing to change it, but… later. I mean, that’s not procrastination, is it? It’s not that you committed yourself to do something on Monday and it’s Wednesday and you haven’t done it yet. No, you just said “later”, so later can be… any time later.
Well, that actually is a mix of procrastination and of excusing yourself if you haven’t yet taken action. Or maybe is a sign that you don’t want a change as much as you say you do.
“The process of overcoming procrastination can begin once you’re able to admit that when you avoid taking action, you’re really avoiding pain. (…) Without realizing it, most of us instinctively retreat to a comfort zone and try our best never to leave it”, wrote Phil Stutz, psychiatrist, and Barry Michels, psychotherapist.
With this attitude you are ignoring a very important fact: the time that you waste is gone; nobody will give it back to you. If there is something you’d like to do, do it now. A year from now, you may regret not having started today.”A year from now, you will regret not having started today.” Click To Tweet
Avoiding pain and the uncertainty of leaving your comfort zone could be a reason for procrastination, but there could be others, such as:
a. Your goals are too big for you. “When your goals are too difficult or seem out of your reach, you find the task of pursuing them daunting. You begin to consider your goals boring and are put-off by them”, says Dr Roopleen.
b. You are pursuing too many goals at the same time. Regardless of your motivation for a change and pursuing new goals, if they are too many, they will exhaust you, drain you out. They will become a burden and, in the end, you may postpone it for later, for when you “have more energy”.
You might have seen that many of these issues are related to low self-esteem or to other personal issues that only become apparent if we dwell on our own thoughts and experiences and become more self-aware.
“We have to learn to be our own best friends because we fall too easily into the trap of being our own worst enemies.” ~ Roderick Thorp, Rainbow Drive
If you are interested in exploring other negative attitudes and habits that may impact on your pursuit of personal success, check our earlier article on 10 self-destructive behaviours we should change ASAP.
We’d love to hear from you! Do you feel identified with any of these attitudes? Do you suffer from any other that turns you into your worst enemy?