You Need to Stop Being Hard on Yourself, Dummy!

What is it and Why is it Bad?

There’s some misconception that being hard on oneself will somehow have a positive impact that outweighs the negative energy produced. As if it will make you work harder and eventually be more successful. The truth is, it won’t.

Let’s say my goal was to earn the world record for most apples juggled at once. I then spent a ton of time practicing my throws and catches, but then when the day to set the record came, I messed up and accidentally dropped all the apples. Oh no! Now there are a few possible outcomes on how I could react. One is to talk myself down, either aloud or just in my head: “I’m such a fool for wasting all that time and energy practicing juggling… I should’ve known I’ll never be good enough… If people laugh at me, I deserve it… I’m not good at anything.” Negative self-talk is a common manifestation of being too hard on yourself. It’s especially easy to overlook if you’re not paying attention, since often nobody is in your head listening. Being hard on yourself isn’t just limited to subdued thoughts, it can also be observed in your actions. You might stop taking good care of yourself (hygiene, eating habits, etc.), become increasingly exhausted during the day, give up easily when challenged, fear failure, or have a generally negative self efficacy in your abilities, a common and dangerous one. I know some of this is a bit obvious, but it’s important to understand exactly how being hard on oneself can manifest, as that helps understand deeper reasons.

It’s all in your head

There are pretty few situations where it’d actually be productive to be hard on yourself. I used to rationalize it as a way to push myself towards success. I thought if I punish myself for failing, then I’d step my game up and change. This isn’t true. What it actually does is forms neural connections between a certain task and negative emotions. I wasn’t training my mind to work harder, I was training it to give up trying. As a result, I felt less motivated to put effort into things, assuming it wouldn’t pay off. Over time, my mindset solidified and my belief in my ability to do many things, like play sports, talk to people, or finish homework. Why? Because being hard on yourself encourages a fixed mindset. For those unfamiliar, someone with a fixed mindset thinks, “I am a certain way, and I can’t change that.” They might say this about their IQ, career status, fitness, or bad habits (all of which can be changed, by the way). 

What to do instead

You’ll notice in my apple-juggling example that I never actually mentioned any positive reactions, which there are very many of. Firstly, it’s super important to understand that your mistakes and ability or inability to do certain tasks does not define who you are as a person. My failure to juggle apples doesn’t mean that I’ll never be a successful person because I’m not a hard worker, it just means I should’ve practiced more. It doesn’t mean I’m a stupid person who chooses silly goals to pursue, it just means that on one occasion, I made a bad call on how to spend my time (especially given that I’ve never juggled in my life). You mustn’t jump to conclusions about yourself based on individual occurrences. Especially because there are tons of aspects of who you are, and no single one is so important that it outweighs the rest. 

Now, upon not meeting your expectations or reaching your goals, whether in getting a good grade, shooting a basket, holding a conversation, or, yes, juggling apples, the most important thing to do going forward is employ a growth mindset. This is in contrast to the fixed mindset. If I have a growth mindset, I believe that I am capable of growing and improving in anything I do. With the apples it’d look like, “I’d better get working so I can do better next time” or “I didn’t do too well here, but that’s okay. Maybe I should try using oranges instead.” 

Being Hard on Yourself

What is it and Why is it Bad?

There’s some misconception that being hard on oneself will somehow have a positive impact that outweighs the negative energy produced. As if it will make you work harder and eventually be more successful. The truth is, it won’t.

Let’s say my goal was to earn the world record for most apples juggled at once. I then spent a ton of time practicing my throws and catches, but then when the day to set the record came, I messed up and accidentally dropped all the apples. Oh no! Now there are a few possible outcomes on how I could react. One is to talk myself down, either aloud or just in my head: “I’m such a fool for wasting all that time and energy practicing juggling… I should’ve known I’ll never be good enough… If people laugh at me, I deserve it… I’m not good at anything.” Negative self talk is a common manifestation of being too hard on yourself. It’s especially easy to overlook if you’re not paying attention, since often nobody is in your head listening. Being hard on yourself isn’t just limited to subdued thoughts, it can also be observed in your actions. You might stop taking good care of yourself (hygiene, eating habits, etc.), become increasingly exhausted during the day, give up easily when challenged, fear failure, or have a generally negative self efficacy in your abilities, a common and dangerous one. I know some of this is a bit obvious, but it’s important to understand exactly how being hard on oneself can manifest, as that helps understand deeper reasons.

It’s all in your head

There are pretty few situations where it’d actually be productive to be hard on yourself. I used to rationalize it as a way to push myself towards success. I thought if I punish myself for failing, then I’d step my game up and change. This isn’t true. What it actually does is forms neural connections between a certain task and negative emotions. I wasn’t training my mind to work harder, I was training it to give up trying. As a result, I felt less motivated to put effort in to things, assuming it wouldn’t pay off. Over time, my mindset solidified and my belief in my ability to do many things, like play sports, talk to people, or finish homework. Why? Because being hard on yourself encourages a fixed mindset. For those unfamiliar, someone with a fixed mindset thinks, “I am a certain way, and I can’t change that.” They might say this about their IQ, career status, fitness, or bad habits (all of which can be changed, by the way). 

What to do instead

You’ll notice in my apple-juggling example that I never actually mentioned any positive reactions, which there are very many of. Firstly, it’s super important to understand that your mistakes and ability or inability to do certain tasks does not define who you are as a person. My failure to juggle apples doesn’t mean that I’ll never be a successful person because I’m not a hard worker, it just means I should’ve practiced more. It doesn’t mean I’m a stupid person who chooses silly goals to pursue, it just means that on one occasion, I made a bad call on how to spend my time (especially given that I’ve never juggled in my life). You musn’t jump to conclusions about yourself based on individual occurrences. Especially because there are tons of aspects of who you are, and no single one is so important that it outweighs the rest. 

Now, upon not meeting your expectations or reaching your goals, whether in getting a good grade, shooting a basket, holding a conversation, or, yes, juggling apples, the most important thing to do going forward is employ a growth mindset. This is in contrast to the fixed mindset. If I have a growth mindset, I believe that I am capable of growing and improving in anything I do. With the apples it’d look like, “I’d better get working so I can do better next time” or “I didn’t do too well here, but that’s okay. Maybe I should try using oranges instead.” 

And get this: it doesn’t matter how successful you are or if you even control what your growth mindset covers. People who have growth mindsets are often also classified as optimists, and study after study show that optimistic people are more likely to be successful and happy in life. Simply believing that you can grow gives you better odds of improving than telling yourself you can’t. Shocking, I know. 

Love yourself!

Provide yourself with unconditional self love, you’ll be grateful. Don’t worry about how well you do in certain things or how others might see you. You are smart, kind, funny, a good person, and you will find success, just as long as you believe you will. Your mistakes don’t define who you are, it’s how you react to them. Make them, learn from them, and laugh at them. Onwards and upwards, friendo!

2 thoughts on “You Need to Stop Being Hard on Yourself, Dummy!”

  1. Usually I do not post on blogs, but I would like to say that this write-up very much compelled me to try and do so! Your writing style has been amazed me. Thank you, quite a nice post.

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