It's easy to get frustrated with ourselves when we make a seemingly silly mistake. Most of the time, though, it's not justified. The best way to respond to mistakes is to keep it in perspective and make sure you don't do it again. Understand that it can happen to anyone and move on instead of beating yourself up.
Here are a few steps to adjust what you say to yourself when you goof up.
1. Listen to How You Talk to Yourself
Have you ever made an easily avoidable error and told yourself, “You are such an idiot!”? I have.
I remember waking up one morning and started making a pot of coffee. I pulled the coffee pot from the dishwasher. Next, I grabbed a coffee filter and put it in the spot it normally goes. Finally, I added my grounds. I hit the start button and left the room until I heard the beep telling me my coffee was ready.
What I neglected to do, was grab the basket that the filter is supposed to be in. So I was making my coffee without the filter basket.
I came back to the kitchen and coffee was all over the counter and floor. It was under all the appliances and the stuff sitting around the machine. It was a total mess. And throughout my cleaning up the mess, I kept saying to myself, “You’re so stupid!” and “Why do you keep doing these things!” I was brutal to myself.
2. Compare To How You Talk to Others
It wasn’t until my wife came into the kitchen to see what all the commotion was about did I hear the words, “It’s not such a big deal, don’t be so hard on yourself.”
Why did it take someone else to say this to me when, had I been in my wife’s place, I would have said the same thing? Why was I saying these things to myself, when I wouldn’t say these things to other people?
As the old saying goes, “You are your own worst critic.” You don’t expect others to be perfect, but for some reason you expect perfection of yourself. It’s not fair. Cut yourself some slack. You are better than you think.
So, listen to yourself and what you’re saying in those times of frustration and stress. When you start having critical thoughts about your talent, your intelligence, your looks, etc., stop and say out loud what you’re thinking. If you’re near a mirror, that's even better.
Look at yourself and say what you’re thinking to your own face. Notice how you look as you’re saying those words. You’ll probably find a pretty nasty person looking back at you - someone who is mean, condescending, and judgmental.
3. Are You Being Fair to Yourself?
When you calm down a little bit, talk to yourself again. This time, in a rational tone and with rational thoughts and questions. Ask yourself if you’re really being fair. Does this situation really reflect who you are all the time or was this just one-time thing that you shouldn’t be judged on? Is this how you would talk to a friend? How about a stranger?
The answers you come up with will be revealing. I promise. Nine times out of ten, you’ll find that you can be kind of a dick to yourself for no apparent reason.
4. Rephrase and Reframe
Now that you are taking note that you’re being negative and probably harder on yourself than you should be, it’s time to reel in that little voice in your head and take control of it. How, you ask? By rephrasing what you’re saying to be a better reflection of reality.
Going back to my earlier story about the “great coffee fiasco,” rather than telling myself that I’m an idiot who always keeps making mistakes, I should have talked to myself like my wife did. I should have said that it wasn’t a big deal, just a small clean-up. I should have said that this doesn’t happen all the time, so why was I making such a production of it. I should have told myself that I’ve learned my lesson and will try not to do it again. I should have said, “nobody’s perfect.”
5. Practice Being Kinder to Yourself
Doing this isn’t easy. In the heat of the moment, we are irrational creatures, who by default use our lizard brains that rely on instinct rather than rationality.
So we have to develop the habit of following these rules to notice when we are being overly hard on ourselves, comparing how we talk to ourselves in those moments of stress as opposed to how friends and family do, asking ourselves if we’re really being fair, and then rephrasing those negative thoughts to be more reflective of reality.
Developing a habit is hard and takes time, so you have to do this EVERY time you find yourself falling into the negative thought loop. But once it’s a habit, you’ll find that you’re being a lot nicer to yourself and, as crazy as it sounds, nicer to the other people around you.