We all slip into bad habits from time to time. Some more problematic than others, some done with an understanding of the consequences, and others adopted completely unconsciously. Poor habits come in so many forms. There are the actual physical things we do, such as throwing socks on the floor right next to the laundry hamper (aHEM), others happen within our own minds. What I am eluding to and will discuss further is the habit of reflection upon the self. Be it past decisions or actions, it ultimately turns into self-criticism and obsession over past events.
The consequences of self-reflection
Being critical is fine. Actually, it is essential. How would we improve if we never identified our shortcomings? Right, we wouldn’t. ‘Criticism’ is frequently thought of as being an ‘outside-in’ action, as in someone is being critical of something you did. As negative as the connection to this word is, however, it is equally wrong to be thought of as unable to take criticism. We therefore strive to accept criticism not as an insult to our character, but as an opportunity to see our past shortcomings (at least in the eyes of the ‘criticizer’) and grow to be a more effective person. Great. But what if we consider criticism from an ‘inside-out’ perspective? Our greatest critic is 100% ourselves. This is inevitable because we are the only ones who know every single action and decision that we have ever made. We are also aware of our own standards and where we ourselves fall in relation to them. It is also possible that our standards are a creation of our individual shortcomings, which makes it impossible for us to live up to our own standards, thus creating a critical internal perspective of the self (*gasps for air*) Anyways, enough with that.
So how do we grow from criticism without beating ourselves down? It’s not as easy as simply being a good sport and not letting negative feedback ‘get to you.’
- Understand the difference between reflecting on the past and dwelling on it.
- If you are questioning a decision you made, try to realize that unless you can change the past, it might be in your better interest to consider all potential outcomes of your decision and work out a strategy for each of them. At the same time, remember your decision in this instance and make different choices in the future.
- Identify your own perceived shortcomings, accept them, and be thankful they are there. If there is nothing about yourself you wish to improve, you will be very bored for the rest of your life.
The benefits of self-reflection
This is somewhat just the opposite of everything we just went over. Self-reflection is good because it allows us to identify our mistakes and try not to repeat them in the future. It creates a certain amount of humility because we are accepting that we are not perfect (otherwise there would be no need to reflect…unless you’re reflecting on how perfect you are). Self-reflection, is ultimately an opportunity to grow as a person. unfortunately sometimes it does not manifest that way. We tend to dwell on the past. It is easy to get sucked into a whirlwind of despair and anguish when thinking about poor decisions or mistakes we made. We think things like “I shouldn’t have done that, why did I do that?” or “I can’t believe I said that” obsessively. Like a mantra. To what end? What possible benefit do these convictions of self-doubt give us? Nothing, except suck us further down into a pit of criticism and despair (The Pit of Despair, anyone?).
Let’s briefly turn this around.
- Instead of “Why did I do/say/choose that?” think “Next time I will do/say/choose this!”
- Be a realist. Dwelling on the past will not change the future, but don’t become jaded. You have the ability to act differently, you just have to put the effort in to do it. Alternatively, do not criticize yourself for not putting in enough effort! Vicious circle.
- Realize that doing things differently is difficult, because life is difficult, and you can rest when you’re dead…yep.
A little personal anecdote here about how improvement is easier said than done and why we allow ourselves to fall prey to our own shortcomings.
I like to draw. I am very bad at drawing hands. Because it is harder for me, I don’t like doing it. Because I don’t like drawing hands, I don’t do it. Because I don’t do it all of my sketches are missing hands. When I look at all my handless sketches I feel bad about myself because I can’t make sketches with hands. UGH. Ok, I have also noticed that when I do something I’m bad at a lot of times I tend to get better at it. So, even though I am bad at it, and don’t like it, and never do it, I sat down and I drew hands for 20 minutes. Guess what, I can draw hands now.
It is undeniable that we don’t like doing things that we are bad at. Whichever one comes first, the dislike or the ineptitude, the fact remains there are certain things that all of us steer away from. We reflect on these things and criticize ourselves for them. It doesn’t have to be this way. I realize my example is a trivial one, but the notion really can be applied to anything.
A man is afraid of approaching a woman at a bar. He leaves and beats himself up because of the missed opportunity. This repeats itself for weeks and he feels more and more insecure both about missed opportunities and the feeling that he is not courageous enough. So he goes out five nights in a row (the dude parties, whatever) and goes up to a different girl each time. No matter the outcome he finds that each time it is a tiny bit easier. A short time later, he’s goin’ up to everyone, making friends, and he couldn’t be happier. It was hard, but he did it.
So what should we do? Overcome our human instincts and understand that dwelling on the past is a tiny bit lazy. Bad habits form out of laziness (I am not being harsh, do we remember the socks? Find one way to tell me that throwing dirty socks on the floor, directly next to the hamper, is not lazy. Clearly this is personal.) because usually the right thing to do is a tiny bit harder, hense “what is right and what is easy.” We make mistakes because it’s the easy thing to do! We yell because it’s easier to yell than to stop, think, and consider all angles while swallowing the rage and arriving at a diplomatic solution. Then we regret yelling. Now we’re filled with regret, and we criticise ourselves for being so reactive.
Regret, criticism, reflection, can become our perfect tools for improvement. But improvement, like literally everything else, takes work. Hard work.
Have a lovely day 🙂