At times when you are feeling discouraged, insecure, or inadequate, it might be helpful to stop for a moment, take a breath, and notice your inner monologue. Just observe -- as if you were overhearing a conversation in a restaurant or while shopping. Notice both what is said and how it is said. When you take a pause to actually listen, you often discover that it is not too surprising that you are feeling the way that you do. In fact, you might think that you would probably have a negative reaction to hearing other people talking to each other this way. Then consider that this voice is with you all of the time, often unquestioned, not even consciously noticed because it is so habitual. When their attention is directed to how they try to manage themselves internally, most people find that they would feel guilty or ashamed to be talking to anyone else in this manner, and they would probably attempt to avoid doing it. Yet our inner reaction to something as minor as a television-and-Oreos indiscretion can be pretty harsh, and more significant mistakes elicit even more negativity.
So what’s up? Why do we do it? It may be coming from some sense that this will improve performance, lead us to stop self-defeating behavior, stop making the same mistake over and over again, and somehow take the steps that will lead us to feel safer, more successful, more gratified in our lives. But is it working? It doesn’t seem to be, and that’s not surprising. We wouldn’t really expect it to work long term with our children, spouses, or friends if we were negative, critical, or name-calling. Why would we expect it to work in our own self-management? Most of us have an intuitive sense that consistently using this style with a child, real or imagined, that we were “guiding” would result in low self-esteem, reactive anger, or, maybe in the best case, tuning us out. None of these looks like a winning strategy to help us achieve our goals when applied to ourselves.
We don’t have to beat ourselves up for beating ourselves up, but it would be a smart move to change our inner “managerial style.” It is often useful to do a thought experiment exploring what we would want to convey to a child or student in whom we were deeply invested. Our message certainly wouldn’t be “Anything you do is just fine,” but it also wouldn’t be “Why are you such a [fill in the blank]!?” It might be more like, “Okay, this part of what you did worked; keep that up. This part did not work. What might work better? Next time try that.” Or maybe even, “It can be [hard, discouraging, frustrating, embarrassing] when what you try doesn’t work. It’s really good that you are continuing to try. I’m proud of you for that.” How might that feel if directed toward yourself? And how much more motivated and empowered to persevere might you be with that kind of an inner coach? Why not do the experiment and see what happens. It’s worth a try.