Are you hard on yourself? Like beating yourself up about the one small mistake you made in the presentation when the meeting was a huge success. Or focusing on the one piece of “you could do better” feedback from your boss and ignoring the ten positive ones.

If so, you are not alone. As high achievers, who could blame us for having high standards? That’s what’s gotten us to where we are now.

The downside is there’s always more you feel you could and should do. Like more you could prepare before the big meeting, more you could study before the exam, more time you should be spending with your loved ones.

With “more” as a moving target, it’s hard to measure up. There’s someone who’s better than you at everything you do. Or richer, taller, smarter, harder working, more attractive, more successful and so on.

Being hard on yourself places unnecessary obstacles in your way

It’s like pulling a sled full of heavy baggage behind you that weighs you down and saps your energy. Energy you could be putting toward something productive that moves you closer to the aspirations you have… and energy you could spend on enjoying your life!

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When you find yourself “should-ing” on yourself and generally giving yourself a hard time, here are three steps you can take to lessen the pressure and stop being so hard on yourself.

  1. Stay out of the gap
  2. Shift from judging to appreciating
  3. Get out of your own head

Remember to stay out of the gap

The biggest culprit in being hard on yourself is falling into what Dan Sullivan, CEO of Strategic Coach, calls “the gap”. The gap is the difference between where you are now and the ideal you aspire to.

For example, my definition of success was the seniority level I was at plus one. So when I was an Associate, success meant promotion to Vice President. But when I finally got promoted to VP, I was already looking to the next promotion and spent hardly any time feeling good about the promotion I had just gotten.

Similarly, once I got the courage to speak up in a meeting, which was a giant step forward, I became dissatisfied with the content of what I was saying and how I was saying it.

Instead of measuring yourself against the ideal, especially when it’s a moving target, Dan Sullivan says you want to measure the “current you” relative to where you started out. That’s what he calls “the gain”. When you look at how far you’ve come, you’ll be in celebration mode, and not “hard on yourself” mode.

And Dan Sullivan has even written a book on this topic with Benjamin Hardy called “The Gap and The Gain”.

As the saying goes, it’s about progress not perfection. So focus on your wins, no matter how big or small, and encourage yourself to keep moving forward without being dragged down by that heavy sled of being hard on yourself.

Which brings us to the next step.

Make the shift from judging to appreciating

It’s so easy to fall into the trap of finding fault, whether that’s with yourself or with others. I framed it as looking for ways to improve, but it always felt heavy and draining. At other times, it was my critical thinking ability on overdrive, which quickly turned into criticizing.

Whether you’re criticizing others or yourself, it’s a form of negative energy and unhelpful.

Do yourself a favor and stop judging others. When you judge others, it’s natural to assume they’re doing the same to you or at least wonder what they might be thinking of you. And that in turn leads to judging yourself.

So every time you find yourself judging yourself or others, make the shift to appreciating. When you focus on what you appreciate about someone, it stops the negative cycle and creates a positive one.

Which brings us to the third step.

Get out of your own head

I remember comparing myself to my colleagues and feeling like I fell short on every front. Ross was more analytical than me, Liz was better at financial theory, Cathy was calmer under pressure, and Brian was just plain smarter than all of us. With all those negative thoughts, it’s no wonder I lacked the crucial confidence that would have gotten me further ahead in my career faster!

What I had overlooked entirely was the fact that I had my own unique set of strengths, in particular my client relationship skills. All of which shows how easy it is to have a distorted view of yourself relative to others.

After all, you see the “behind the scenes” version of yourself (with warts and all) but only the shiny “front stage” version of everyone else.

Since this doesn’t serve you well, it’s time to change your perspective and see yourself from the outside too. That makes it “apples to apples”. Or better yet, don’t compare yourself to others at all!

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But what if you objectively believe you should be further along than you are?

Remember that we all learn and do things at different rates, and it usually doesn’t matter much if you get there in the end. For example, children that learn to walk after they turned one end up being just as good at walking as those who started walking sooner.

And while it took me longer to get promoted to Managing Director than some others, my career had more staying power than theirs did.

So instead of “should-ing” on yourself, tap into the question, “where do I want to take things from here?”

And according to Kanter’s Law, “everything looks like a failure in the middle”. So when you’re in that messy middle, keep your eye on the longer-term vision and know that you’re not done yet! In fact, this may be exactly where you’re supposed to be right now to learn what you need to learn to move forward.

Just don’t make the mistake of treating your career and life as a race

There are no prizes for getting through more accomplishments quicker than everyone else. The rush to be the youngest partner or accumulating the most wealth can distract you from the things that are truly important to you.

Do you want to be known as the best at keeping up with the Joneses? Or to feel good about what you’ve done with what you have in the time you’ve been given?

When you’re being hard on yourself, “stop it”!

“Stop it!” comes from a comedy sketch from Bob Newhart where he plays a psychiatrist whose answer to every patient’s truly serious problem is to – you guessed it – “stop it!”

While that sounds ridiculous, there’s a germ of truth to the solution. To help you when you need to stop being hard on yourself, remember these three steps:

  • Stay out of the gap – it’s more energizing and meaningful to measure yourself against how far you’ve come, not how much farther you have to go.
  • Shift from judging to appreciating – when you’re in gratitude and appreciation, you’ll be able to bring out the best in yourself and others. And you’ll enjoy better results.
  • Get out of your own head – stop comparing your “behind the scenes” self to the shiny “front stage” that others project to the world.

Which of these steps would most help you to stop being so hard on yourself?

Leave a comment and let me know.