How many times have you set a goal for yourself (e.g., “I will finally start going to the gym in the morning”) only to feel disappointed and defeated when achieving that goal isn’t as easy as you’d thought it would be? When your motivation starts to dwindle and the self-doubt creeps in, it’s easy to feel like giving up on your goal.
How do you quiet your inner critic and rise to the challenge of setting and achieving goals? Beyond using SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound) goals, it is also helpful to commit to doing some work to address that self-defeating inner monologue that critiques you as you go.
Shift your perspective to self-encouragement.
One of the simplest ways to stop this cycle of negative self-talk when you are struggling with setting or achieving a goal is to quiet your inner critic by shifting your perspective. Your goal is to shift your perspective from self-blame and self-dislike to self-encouragement. One of the easiest ways to do this is to ask yourself, “How would I talk to a friend in this same situation?” To make it even simpler, pick a close friend, and ask yourself, “What would I say to [your friend’s name] if she was in this same situation?” Asking yourself this question helps to take you out of your own headspace where your inner critic lives and helps you see the situation from a different perspective.
For example, let’s say you want to start learning calligraphy as a new hobby (a great form of self-care, BTW), and you’ve purchased the supplies, found a few tutorials online, and tried a few exercises. You decide that, while you aren’t exactly terrible, you also don’t seem to have a secret talent for becoming a calligraphy expert overnight (like you secretly hoped). As you struggle to find the right way to hold the pen and trace the alphabet over and over, your inner critic starts to raise doubts in your head. “Your calligraphy is never going to look like those beautiful Instagram hand-lettered prints that you admire so much. Why even try? Just forget about it and go back to scrolling through your social media feed instead.”
Does this sound familiar?
Your inner critic is using the fact that you are struggling with learning something that’s entirely new and foreign to you as “proof” that you are somehow talentless and unworthy of encouragement. And when you believe what your inner critic is saying, you start to feel defeated, unmotivated, and disappointed in yourself. What happens next? You probably tuck those calligraphy pens and paper in a drawer somewhere, never to be used again.
How would you treat a friend?
The key here to shifting your perspective and jumpstarting your goal is to ask yourself if you would say those exact same words to the friend that we mentioned earlier. If a friend of yours excitedly told you that she wanted to start learning hand-lettering and then texted you a few days later saying, “This is harder than I thought. I don’t know if I have the talent,” how would you respond? Would you say to her, “You may as well give up. What were you thinking, trying to learn something new like this? Your art will never look like the work you admire online. It’s probably better to just give up now”?
Of course not. While friends do provide honest feedback, they also always support and encourage one another, and you wouldn’t dare respond to a friend that way. Somehow, we allow our inner critic to feed us these lies, and we accept them as truth. But, if we spoke these same words aloud to a friend, they’d probably recoil in shock to hear something so harsh. Extend this same kindness to yourself as you start to learn something new or begin to cultivate a new habit.
So if you’re starting a new self-improvement goal or self-care habit, try to start treating yourself as you would a close friend. This will help you shift from being your harshest critic to being your own best friend. As cheesy as it might sound to you, being kind to yourself is more likely to empower you to rise to the challenge of meeting your goal—whatever it may be—than beating yourself up over every mistake.
Next time you catch yourself berating your own efforts, turn the tables on your inner critic and imagine your friend in your situation, and see what happens!