Criticism never builds. Ever. Not even with a happy building word like ‘constructive’ before it. Criticism is criticism. It’s never constructive and it’s never helpful. It paralyses willpower and shackles the capacity to change. It makes the receiver less confident, less shiny, less able.
Yet, when we try to do something differently and don’t quite get there, we can be so quick to criticise. Too often, we unleash words on ourselves that crush our willpower, our confidence and our motivation. Rather than protecting ourselves with the fight of a warrior, we let the harsh words stream through our cracks like dirty water. We’re never going to change anything while that’s going on.
Stay the same to change. Wait. What?
It’s a paradox, but the more we accept the way we are, the more likely we are to change. Here’s how that works …
When we try something new, the critic inside us has something to push against – and it will push: ‘You’ll never do it.’ ‘You couldn’t change if you wanted to.’ ‘You’ll just disappoint yourself again. Save yourself the trouble and stop now.’ Our inner critic will always prefer things to stay as they are. That way, there’s no room for disappointment. If we lapse, even a little, the critic gets louder. It has more reason than ever to get us to stop. ‘Told you.’ ‘You’ve ruined it.’ ‘May as well give up now.’ ‘You’ll just end up disappointed if you keep going. You don’t want that.’ When the critic inside us becomes too noisy and overbearing, we’ll do whatever is needed to quiet it. We’ll give up. Partly because we believe the noise. Partly because we’re drained.
On the other hand, when we accept ourselves as we are, our inner critic is put to bed. There’s nothing to push against. As long as we’re not trying to change, there’s no danger of failing. We don’t need our critic to hold us back because if we’re not trying anything new, there’s no disappointment to hold us back from. When we stand fully as we are (rather than somewhere between who we are and who we’d like to be) one of two things will happen.
The first is that we’ll actually realise that we’re pretty okay – maybe even better than okay – as we are.
The second is that we’ll become so frustrated with our ‘is’ that we won’t be able to help changing. The more the familiar is amplified, the more we will get to know what the familiar actually is – what it looks like, feels like, what it does to us. With this will come the energy and the willpower to change. The excuses just won’t work any more.
Let me give you an example. Let’s say you want to give up sugar. Having made the decision, it’s likely that every time you reach for something you ‘shouldn’t’ be eating, first you’ll make an excuse. ‘But I’ve been really great for 2 hours – no sugar at all – and a girl can’t live on fresh air, ammiright?’, or ‘I’m eating out with friends, so it doesn’t really count. Yep. Show me the dessert menu. Really? Dinner first. Fine then.’ Then, once the sugar is safely in your belly with no chance of return, it’s likely that you’ll cane yourself for doing it. ‘You’ve ruined it.’ ‘You’re useless.’ ‘May as well make the most of the rest of the weekend and start again on Monday. Seconds anyone?’ Familiar?
The alternative is to fully accept that you and sugar are a pretty tight duo. Rather than making excuses when you go for something sweet, just let it happen, but take a moment to own it. Be mindful of what you’re doing. ‘I’m going to eat this crazy good sweet thing. I’m going to bite it, chew it, swallow it and feel okay. That’s what I’m going to do.’ Then, see how you feel. Do you still want to go through with your sugar hit? That’s absolutely fine. Go for it. But whatever you do, don’t give yourself a hard time when you do. Just acknowledge it, and see what happens. It’s likely that if you do this enough, eventually you’ll end on, ‘No actually, I won’t.’
I know this works. I’ve done it myself.
Try this …
Mindset is critical to change. We need to build up rather than to tear down. Every time.
♦ What would lift you?
You’ve failed again. You have no willpower. You’re always going to be fat.
So you missed a day. Well that’s no big deal. Pop on your shoes and let’s go for a walk.
♦ What would keep you in the game?
You’re useless. Two days was all you could go. Now it’s all ruined. You’re back to where you started. Knew you couldn’t do it.
So you ate the ice cream. That’s alright. You went all day yesterday and stayed completely on track. Next time, let’s try half as much.
♦ What would inspire you?
Why do you stand there and say nothing. You’re so dull. You may as well be invisible. Just say something – anything – and stop being so shy!
People who know you love you. You’re pretty amazing you know. You should give more people the chance to see what all the fuss is about.
It might take longer but patience, acceptance and compassion is key to change.
This is particularly important with children. Criticism will knock the spirit right out of them. And once it’s gone, you can’t knock it back in. You need to know this: Inside all of us is that child, craving our approval. When we give ourselves a hard time – when we bully ourselves – that small child withers, and takes the rest of us down with it.
If someone else is stunting your growth …
If you’re the one feeling flattened, hurt or bruised by someone else, you deserve better. Without exception. If you’re being criticised for something that has no impact whatsoever on anyone else, it’s very likely that whoever is doing this to you is seeing something in you that they don’t like about their own self.
It works like this. We all have things about ourselves we don’t like. When we don’t get comfortable with those things, we’ll work really hard to push them down to where they can be ignored. The problem is that this really doesn’t work very well. The more we ignore those qualities in ourselves, the more we notice them in other people. It’s just the way it is. When we see them in others, they act as reminders that stir up the muddy depths of ourselves where we keep our hidden things. Many times these things that we hide don’t deserve to be hidden but for some reason we’ve learn to hate these parts of ourselves and reject them. In the next person, those same qualities might live happily in awareness with no need to be pushed away, but we’re all different aren’t we.
Criticism feels bad because it usually comes with so much more than the message When criticism is spoken with a spiked tongue, or thrown with a fistful of shame, it will always be hard to find the message that was intended.
Words can wound or they can lift. Even the ones that hurt can come from good intentions, but good intentions won’t repair the damage and put back what criticism drains.
There are always things we can learn. When the message is given with love and generous intent, it might be one to listen to. When it’s a cruel message delivered in a cruel way, move the messenger along. You’re just too good for them. You really are.
Be you own greatest fan club … and watch you go.
The hardest thing isn’t changing, but easing up on the things we do to ourselves that hold us back. It takes courage and strength to get out of our own way, usually because it means doing something new and unfamiliar – and that’s never easy.
Words that deliver potential and acceptance (‘You’ve got this!’) will work wonders. Every time. Accept where you’re at and speak to yourself only ever in a way that gives you flight. Then, watch you go, because honestly, you’ve got this.