When I leaped into entrepreneurship four years ago, I had no idea what I was getting into. I knew it was going to be an adventure full of all kinds of unexpected challenges, and I knew it would test my resilience in more ways than one. What I didn’t know was that one of the biggest challenges to overcome – almost on a daily basis – was being my own worst critic.
There is something in your human nature that makes you very self-critical of yourself. Perhaps it’s the negativity bias that you naturally have as a human, or perhaps it’s your never ending desire to grow and improve yourself. It could also be that you are a people pleaser and you simply want to try to be everything for everyone so you feel like you’ve done everything you can to help others. Or maybe it’s the fact that you’re a neurotic perfectionist (like me!) and your quality control is beyond what any person or company in this world would even be able to comprehend.
Whatever the cause is, being your own worst critic has its pros and cons. Yes, it will help you to deliver exceptional work and you’ll be known for never letting people down. On the other hand it can make you procrastinate like hell because perfect is the only quality control word you know; it can make you beat yourself up over and over again because nothing seems to be good enough, and you always think of ways you could have been even better; and, it can stop you from actually doing the work you’re meant to do because you’re so afraid of failing (or of not being perfect).
As an entrepreneur, these are the kind of thoughts that circulate around my head a lot, especially when I’m writing a new article (like this), creating a new product (like my online course), and creating new talks or workshops. As these thoughts have become more and more familiar, I have been forced to learn to manage them to prevent myself from falling into a never ending spiral of negativity.
So now, whenever I feel my worst critic come out, I use these three techniques to get it to calm down.
1. Acknowledge that you are your own worst critic and make peace with it.
The only thing that can make you feel worse about being your worst critic is starting to criticise yourself about how you are your own worst critic. Don’t try to fight it, suppress or deny it as this will only make it worse, and it might totally backfire with a massive explosion later. Instead, acknowledge that this is the case and realise that the only way to handle this is by learning to manage it in a more constructive way (like with the two tips that follow). Remind yourself that this self criticism pushes you to continuously grow and develop, and it also makes you deliver high quality work which your clients/employers/friends love because it is so good.
2. Once your work is done, let it go and leave it behind you.
Every piece of work you do is in the present moment. It is a representation of who you are exactly then and there. Not who you are going to evolve into. Too often you do a piece of work, submit it/release it/publicise it, and then obsess about a hundred things you could have done differently with it. This doesn’t do any good for anyone. For sure, look at how you would like to do it differently the next time around so you can produce something even more brilliant.
But don’t obsess about your past work. It has been done already so there is no point thinking about redoing it. Naturally the work you did yesterday will differ from the work you do today. Naturally, you outgrow your work and that’s ok. It’s a never ending journey of self-growth for you to enjoy.
3. Counteract every one bad thing you say about yourself (or your work) with three positive things.
When you find yourself being a bit too critical and need a reminder of what you are proud of, remind yourself of the good stuff too. Research has suggested that it takes about three positive things to balance out one negative thing so put this into practice when you’re feeling too critical.
Knowing these three things has definitely helped me to overcome a lot of my daily self-critique. It doesn’t mean I’m not my worst critic anymore, but it does mean that I am more aware of it and hence better able to manage it. I encourage you to start with self-awareness too. And, whenever in doubt, remember that you are absolutely beautiful exactly the way you are, as reminded by this beautiful Dove campaign from 2013.
I urge you to share this post with someone you think needs a reminder that they can learn to manage their self-criticism and introduce more self-love into their lives.
With that, I wish you good luck in your adventures & until next time!