Our culture celebrates superstars. We reward the individuals, product, song, organization or the employee that is number one. The rewards are heavily skewed, so much so that it’s typical for No-#1 to get ten times the benefit of No-#10, and a hundred times the benefit of No- #100.
Learning new things is one of the joys of life. Whether you’re a parent, professional, or hobbyist (oftentimes, all three) there’s a good chance you’re powered by the ABL mantra: Always be learning. I was not surprised to see these things reflected in our collective brain: the Google search.
- Try this little thought exercise. Before scrolling, how do you think the google search “How do I learn to…” auto-completes? I did AND guess what came up:-
- # How do I learn to sing or dance
- # How do I learn to invest in the stock market
- # How do I learn to code or speak English or learn Japanese / French
I’ll admit, it didn’t occur to me that learning “to love myself” was a Google-able thing, but once I saw it, I wasn’t surprised. And I bet neither were you.
It’s all in your head
Ambitious people have unlocked the secret of self-motivation. They read incessantly and function on little sleep; all while juggling numerous side projects. Self-talk – or their inner monologues – enable these go-getters to maintain this frenetic pace. The most important of all is that they keep themselves accountable when faced with the inevitable setback. But calling it self-talk is a deceptive euphemism ( understated). It would be like calling Rugby, a contact sport.
If you’re Googling “How to learn to love yourself” the voice is probably a bit intense. Some might say harsh. And a more apt name would be the Inner Critic Or The Drill Sergeant Or The Discipliner. I prefer to call it a “Drill Sergeant”
Say hello to my little friend
Yes, Joe’s LAb named their inner critics the Drill Sergeant. Here’s one of my experiences with my personal Discipliner.
When I lived in Bengaluru City and bought an American Express Platinum Reserve Card to get 48 round of golf free ( 4 round per month) at best golf courses. These 4 free monthly round of golf gave me access to play on the best golf courses free. With Amex on my side, I was riding the best of the fairways “for free” and the savvy mathematician in me was jumping high.
Once what happened is – when I took out my wallet to swipe – the card was missing. In my haste, I’d left it in my card wallet and could not show it at the green fee counter. I had no choice but to pay with another swipe, significantly altering my mental economics/maths.
Drill Sergeant (The Discipliner).
Throughout the round, he would grab the mic and proceed to lay into me for the ensuing 18 hole play, belittling me for my irresponsibility and incompetence. In the process, I had royally fucked up my golf round which I otherwise play decently just by constantly listening to this discipliner in me. But he didn’t stop there, this mistake had grave ramifications: Anything I wanted out of life, anything I aspired to be (a Carpie-Diem Coach ), and any joy I sought to find would now be out of my reach.
Do I need to be nasty?
“If I talked to my friends the way I talk to myself, I’d have no friends.” This was an obvious reminder to relook at my own Drill Sergeant. I was unnecessarily beating myself and drilling a hole in my head & life’s happiness.
Psychology and Neuroscience Professor Mark Leary wrote about this all-too-common behaviour and the impact it has on our happiness in Aeon Magazine:
We all know, people who create a great deal of unhappiness for themselves simply by how they think about and react to the events in their lives.
Many people push themselves to meet their own unreasonable expectations, berate themselves for flubs and failures, and blow their difficulties out of proportion.
In an odd sort of way, these people are rather mean to themselves, treating themselves far more harshly than they treat other people.
Keep it in the family mind-set
Is negative self-talk a byproduct of how we were raised? I shared on Twitter that “Parents think if they don’t go tough on [you], you’ll turn out useless” – a mindset that’s difficult to shake. Positive Intelligence author Shirzad Chamine takes this a step further, arguing that we internalize a false construct of “conditional love:”
The most damaging lie is that we are not worthy of [our parents’] love or respect by just being who we are. Instead, it forces us to constantly perform for them; this forms the construct of “conditional love.” Most of us grow up experiencing love that is conditional on being good or performing, and we get into the habit of placing the same conditions on self-love.
But conditional love is not real love. It’s more like receiving a carrot for good behaviour.
And here is the scary part. If this indeed begins in our childhood, it may not end until… our death beds. In The Five Invitations, end-of-life-care pioneer Frank Ostaseski wrote that people in their last moments often “tell themselves that they’re not doing a good job of dying” and that it’s common for people to look back with regret, to become obsessed with ‘if only’ conversations and “club [them]selves with self-judgment.”
Bracing for the beatdown
Could it be possible that, The Discipliner is just protecting us? When “you expect the world to come at you for making a mistake, you lessen the blow by getting there first.” How thoughtful of you, kind Discipliner.
It wouldn’t be the first time that we seek to protect our fragile egos. In the classic book on workplace feedback titled “Difficult Conversations” Harvard professors Doug Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen explain how criticism ultimately cuts to the core of our identities:
It’s all about who we are and how we see ourselves. How does this or that happened to affect my self-esteem, my self-image, my sense of who I am in the world? What impact will it have on my future? What self-doubts do I harbour?
Whether it’s in our offices, social parties or bedrooms – we’re constantly surrounded by threats to our identities. when we make mistakes, we invite our own suffering by doubling down on self-talk.
Not losing your edge
For so many professionals, negative self-talk is about not getting left behind in a brutally competitive world. The Executioner’s verbal abuse is necessary because the stakes are high: promotions, launching businesses, self-actualization. By enforcing vigilance and discipline The Executioner is doing me a favour by ensuring I keep my competitive edge. But there is a flaw in this thinking. Let me use an analogy of walking barefoot to show the flaws in this thinking.
If you accidentally hurt your foot on a stone you could punish yourself by cutting your foot open with a knife to cause more pain, ensuring you’d never make that mistake again.
Alternatively, you could accept that mistakes are inevitable and instead “continue to walk to where you want to go, and gradually with time learn how to pay attention to sharp stones and relax your feet as you step.”
Punishing yourself with negative-self talk is analogous to wasting precious brain cycles on something that’s already occurred. Inviting curiosity and awareness opens you up to a wonderful asset: creative problem solving. And it makes the journey that much more enjoyable.
And the research backs it up. Kristen Neff, an associate psychology professor at the University of Texas argues that self-compassion is robustly associated with psychological well-being:
People who are higher in self-compassion show greater emotional stability, are more resilient, have a more optimistic perspective, and report greater life satisfaction.
People who treat themselves with compassion respond more adaptively [to small and large mistakes] than people who don’t.
So the next time your Discipliner shows up, extend him your hand. Or even better, a hug or Zadoo – ki – Zaapi.
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