If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s being a perfectly imperfect human being. And if there’s one thing I’m really good at, it’s reminding myself that I am said perfectly imperfect human being. It goes something like this:
I make a mistake – minor or major, it doesn’t matter — and then a small plane dragging an I MADE A MISTAKE sign flies around my thoughts for approximately all of time. Because the budget for that part of my brain (the one that loves being hard on itself) is seemingly endless.
Yes, this is certainly a facet of my specific form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, but it’s also a part of the world around me. When you grow up in a competitive schooling environment where failure in any form isn’t an option, you tend to internalize these heaven-high expectations. In my case, this fed into my OCD and heightened my second nature to be hard on myself. And that’s not a behavior one can easily quit (or quit at all, for that matter).
To this day, I struggle with being kind to myself in the face of, well, everything. Yet, I genuinely want to do better because loving oneself sounds much more fun than the opposite. And I plan to do so by keeping the following in mind:
1. What you’re worrying about now likely won’t matter in the long run (probably in a few days, tbh).
“Don’t be fooled into thinking that your worry will always be helpful,” explains professor of psychology Dr. Graham C. L. Davey. “If you are a persistent worrier you’ve probably come to use worrying simply to kid yourself that you’re doing ‘something’ about a problem. This is not an alternative to tackling the problem now in practical ways.”
Life moves fast and, without even realizing it, we often find ourselves moving on from those situations that seem downright DIRE at the time. I mean, how else will we make room for all the new stuff that’s waiting to become a bullet point on our to-do lists? With this in mind, it’s always good to check-in with yourself and recognize that whatever’s bugging you right now is probably not going to be a blip on your radar in just a few days.
2. Everyone makes mistakes. But actually.
Though this overused phrase loses its potency every time it’s spoken aloud, that doesn’t mean it’s not true. Because everyone makes mistakes. I mean, just open up any history textbook and you’ll basically see a timeline of major mistakes made by every single person who’s shaped the world we live in. And as for the mistakes that you make? Totally normal (and likely won’t cause a war or a plague or something).
3. Every time you criticize yourself, follow that up with an accomplishment.
My last therapist told me that my brain is “trained to think pessimistically.” What this means is that my thoughts naturally go to a negative place (no help needed). To combat his, I was advised to consciously follow up every negative thought with a positive one. Example: “I forgot to submit this essay and that means I’m a failure. Oh wait — but last week I called the bank even though it made me anxious and that’s pretty great.”
To take this thought further, in his book Positive Psychology 101, Dr. Phillip C. Watkins wrote, “Happiness results, in part, from using your emotions adaptively … Even negative emotions matter to your happiness, and when you can accept them and use them to help you live well, unpleasant emotions can help foster your enduring happiness.”
Yes, this is something that takes a bit of work. But once you practice it for a while, it becomes second nature and helps you get a necessary dose of self-love in at the same time.
4. Stop, drop, and relax.
I’ve noticed that I tend to be hardest on myself when I’m experiencing tension, and I have a feeling I’m not the only one. With stress and self-negativity combined, this can put us under a lot of pressure — but unlike a piece of coal, we may not blossom into diamonds. Instead, we can transform into our own worst nightmares, plagued by all the things we regret doing and/or not doing.
Now, rather than letting this frame of mind get the best of us, it sounds much better to fight back by taking care of ourselves. Specifically, we can stop being horrible to ourselves, drop everything, and do something we find relaxing to calm our anxious mindsets.
5. Learn — don’t dwell.
“The anxiety about making mistakes is very much rooted in the old paradigm of being as opposed to becoming,” psychotherapist Mel Schwartz wrote for Psychology Today. “This worldview has us see ourselves as fixed and static, not as flowing and changing. This perspective roots us in the fear of making mistakes. The process of becoming is forgiving. In the flow of becoming we are no longer mired in the hardship of fear, insecurity or the notions of mistakes.”
Mistakes are meant to be made for a reason, right? So why is it that we tend to turn our mistakes into memories we cringe over when we can’t sleep at night? On second thought, we should be looking at our mistakes and asking ourselves, “How can I take this and use it as an opportunity to make myself better?” That way, we can focus more on improvement, rather than self-hatred.
6. Face your fears and deliberately make mistakes.
“Exposure is hands down the most successful way to deal with phobias, anxiety disorders, and everyday fears of any sort,” neuroscientist Philippe Goldin told Lifehacker.
Since I tend to notice everything I do wrong in life, it’s not surprising that I would purposefully go out of my way to avoid making mistakes. But that’s no way to live, because trust — it’s really freakin’ boring. So, in place of putting a wide circle around potential mistakes, it sounds much more fun to embrace them head-on by means of facing my fears. Plus, every time we successfully face a fear, it can be added to the accomplishment list for #3.
7. For all you visual learners and lovers out there, make a happiness jar.
Time to explain. A happiness jar is a jar filled with notes that have positive tips and tricks on them. For instance, you can write encouraging quotes on little pieces of paper, roll ’em up, and stick them in the jar for those times when you are not happy with yourself. Then, simply take the note out, absorb whatever it says, and allow it to pull you out of whatever negative rabbit hole you’re falling down.
“What the research shows is that experiencing positive emotions more often increases our options of responding,” wrote Dr. Dan Tomasulo. “What can help when we are tumbling down the manhole is a direct effort to break the fall. Watching a funny movie, taking a walk, shifting to a more enjoyable topic are all good ways of slowing down the negative spiral.”
Ultimately, if all else fails, remember that you’ve made it this far. And that’s pretty awesome.