The other morning was like a comedy of errors. I messed up an Uber order and had to pay the cancellation fee, then I got a yellow taxi and left my nice, new umbrella inside (and, of course, it absolutely poured later that day)! I arrived at my meeting, and my laptop was dead, so I had to present from memory without my slides.
Damn, I thought to myself. I really need to get my sh*t together.
On the way home, this led to a downward thought spiral that went something like:
- I’m disorganized, and it’s going to hold me back forever.
- Remember that time you lost that pearl earring too? You can’t be trusted with anything.
- My clients must think I’m an idiot—no charge on my laptop, really?
- I suck.
- Am I going to fail at life?!
As someone who is very conscious of their self-talk, this flash-flurry of negative thoughts came as a bit of a shock and made me feel awful. And why wouldn’t it? Those comments are harsh as heck. After moping around for a couple of hours afterward, I had to pull myself together. So I thought, What would I say to a friend who did this if it was their morning instead?
I’d probably laugh. I’d say, “Hey, sh*t happens,” then tell her to get over it quick because, in life, you can’t avoid annoying fees, umbrellas are replaceable, and her clients probably found her totally impressive with or without her slideshow.
It’s no secret that we’re harder on ourselves than we are on anyone else. But we don’t have to be—or at least not to the extent that we are some days. And if you can just reduce this constant criticism, your confidence can be transformed in an instant.
In your next moment of self-condemnation—try this:
1. Replace yourself with someone else.
The next time you make a mistake, picture a person you love making that mistake instead of you—your mom, your best friend, your spouse. How would you respond to their story? What would you say, exactly? How would you comfort them or even make them laugh? I bet your words would be 99 percent kinder than the words you’d use with yourself. Can you use some of the same gentle, wise, even humorous language before a mirror?
Now… doesn’t that feel better?
2. Speed-review the last 12 months.
In the heat of something going wrong, we don’t see ourselves clearly. Our ego takes over and, for a period, we blank on who really are: competent, whole, resourceful humans. Once you’ve calmed a bit, you can reflect, center yourself, and ask yourself these questions:
How far have I come this year? What do I know now that I didn’t last December? What good stuff is going on for me right now?
It’s more than you probably realize—I promise.
3. Stop overestimating how much people think about you.
The spotlight effect refers to the tendency to think that more people notice something about you than they do. This means that whatever you do (whether good or bad) is far more meaningful to you than to anyone else. Think about it—ever re-read that awesome email you wrote? Or relived a funny joke you made at just the right moment? And the same goes for the opposite… ever ruminated over the gossipy remark you wish you hadn’t made or the social faux pas that ruined the office holiday party for you?
The thing you think you did wrong is often far bigger and more important to you than to anyone else—because everyone else is doing the same thing as you: spotlighting themselves. This can bring you tremendous solace! Chill—no one’s even thinking about you anyway.
As the year comes to a close, if you can go a little easier on yourself, you’ll notice a significant shift in how life responds to you. It’s hard to shake or derail a self-compassionate person. As the old saying goes, you owe yourself the love you so freely give other people. Try shining some on yourself… and see what happens.
Susie Moore is Greatist's life coach columnist and a confidence coach in New York City. Sign up for free weekly wellness tips on her website and check back every Tuesday for her latest No Regrets column!