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.