Welcome to Emotional Leadership, the podcast for high achieving leaders. Because healthier emotional lives means stronger leadership, thriving teams and much bigger results.
I don’t know about you but I had a fabulous weekend.
We had Thursday and Friday off of work. And I decided ahead of time that I was going to work on my business and recording podcast episodes for you and all sorts of other fun things on Thursday. And then on Sunday, I had my youngest sibling’s graduation. We had a lovely time. Of course it was a virtual video call with just family and friends and celebrating them and it was just the most lovely thing.
And in between, I was going to take Friday and Saturday off. Like off-off. Not take time off from my full time job but be super focused on cleaning the house, or super focused on my coaching calls, or writing emails for you all, or recording the podcast. I was going to take time, like, actually off and do NOTHING.
It was completely magical. Let me tell you why.
I can’t actually remember the last time that I took a day off work, all kinds of work, and where I didn’t feel like I was supposed to be doing something else at that time. You know when you sneak in rest, right? Oh, you know, what I really should be doing is writing a blog post or cleaning the kitchen. And I’m just gonna sneak in this couple minutes of reading here, I’m gonna play this game on my phone or I’m gonna call my best friend and I know I should be doing something else but I deserve a little bit of rest.
So I’m not talking about that kind of rest. The kind that you sneak in between other things when you tell yourself you really should be doing something else. I’m talking about the kind where you know that you have carved out time just to do nothing. There’s nothing waiting for you. There’s nothing you’re stealing time away from.
Just quiet. In my head.
I, as I said, honestly can’t remember the last time that I had that kind of time to myself. Time that I hadn’t overbooked with some other commitment that I had chosen and I had committed to in my head. But that meant that I had this chorus of things I should be doing instead of just taking some time for rest and decompression and pleasure because I could.
Now one of the things that made me realize was that I wasn’t making that time for myself on a regular basis because I didn’t think I deserved it. I thought that I would deserve time to myself, to have fun, when I was finally getting everything on my to-do list done. When I was finally good enough. When I was finally hitting all my goals.
And until then, the only real purpose of rest was to not burn myself out. Now, I’ve learned that lesson. I’ve learned that rest is really important for me because when I wasn’t taking any time at all away from the steady stream of shoulds and what I needed to do and what I told myself I would complete this week, when I wasn’t taking any time away from that, I was absolutely exhausting myself.
And while I was turning out work at a great speed, my results felt subpar. I wasn’t really giving myself the space to think, the space to redo something if I didn’t love the way it had turned out the first time.
So I started to give myself little breaks of rest but it was always this sense of, “I’m pushing too hard. If I don’t take a break, it won’t go well. This next task won’t be very good.” And so in order to keep my quality of work up, I need to give myself a break. And at the same time I was deciding those ad hoc. I wasn’t doing a good job of scheduling them. And because I wasn’t scheduling them I was often deciding in the moment, “Should I work? Or should I rest?” And as you can guess my rest wasn’t very restful when it was always accompanied by the thought “maybe I should be working right now.”
I’d basically taught myself that rest and relaxation were only important in as much as they helped me produce important valuable results in the world. They had to have a purpose.
I wasn’t good enough yet and I didn’t deserve to have fun, to have pleasure in my life, to do things just because I wanted to, until I reached that “good enough” bar.
Now if that sounds unhealthy, you are right. When I saw that in my mind, I was not happy. And I immediately let down a road of telling myself all the ways I was doing life wrong. All the ways that I was thinking wrong, all the ways I wasn’t getting enough done. There was a litany of the things that I just wasn’t getting right in life.
And it occurred to me that I was very carefully orchestrating my life so that I could be happy someday. So that I could hit the right level of success. So that I could have amazing tools that I shared with you all. So that I could get the right accolades for the right projects at work. But in doing that, I was failing to live my life at all in the moment.
I was trying so hard to create this future sense of happiness of success that I was creating very little positive emotion for myself right now. But now was when I’m actually living. This is the experience of what my life is like.
This has been a theme for me, repeatedly in my life over the last few years. Noticing ways I was beating up on myself. Realizing that I was doing it because I thought I was going to get some positive result or stave off some negative result.
And then really coming to terms with the fact that it was producing the exact opposite of the experience that I wanted in life in that moment and for the future.
When I saw it come up again this weekend, I reflected a little bit. I reflected on how far I’ve come. I reflected on how ingrained this same pattern is for most of us. How much time we spend telling ourselves that it’s useful and it’s valuable. And I decided to switch up the order of podcast episodes a little bit to push out the next ones so that I could spend some time this week talking about why we beat up on ourselves, the true cost of it, and sharing the lesson I’ve learned for how to stop beating up on myself.
The ways that I’ve learned to understand why I’m really telling myself all those nasty things, why the reminder of, “Well, you wouldn’t talk to your best friend or your daughter that way, why would you talk to yourself that way?” has never really worked for me.
And the recipe that’s helped me work through each of these moments in my own self coaching, in my own work, in my own life, and that I used again this week.
So let’s start from the beginning. Why do we beat up on ourselves?
Well, I think there’s two reasons. We beat up on ourselves because we think it’s the only or best way to avoid a negative outcome.
We think it’s just a fact that we’re not good enough in some area of our life or we’re just not good enough as a human being. And that if we were to think we were good enough, if we were to act like things were right, and fine, and we were a wonderful person, that that would make us a liar, or a narcissist, or overly confident or unaware of our flaws. And then we would be somebody that we like even less than this person who just isn’t good enough. We think we need to beat up on ourselves because it’s reality and reality is at least better than being a liar and a fake.
Now, what I’m here to tell you today is there is no good enough bar.
This is one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from my teacher Brooke Castillo. We are all 100% worthy. We are good enough from the moment we are born onto this planet and there is no way in our entire lives that we can ever lose that good enough-ness.
Just think about it. A tiny infant, three minutes old. Are they good enough? Are they 100% worthy in this world? Absolutely. A two year old. Are they good enough? Now, if you’re that two year olds parents, some days your answer might be no. But if you leave the flippant answer behind, it’s a yes. You know they’re worthy. You know they’re good enough. So when does that wear off?
The answer is never.
We came into this world good enough. We all still are right now. And believing that will not suddenly turn you into a bad person.
But believing that we’ll somehow turn into a bad person if we think we’re good enough isn’t the only way we beat up on ourselves to prevent negative outcomes. We beat up on ourselves because we think it’s the only way to get our work done.
Many people beat up on themselves because they think it’s the only way to get their work done.
That if they don’t push hard and bullied themselves, they’ll become lazy or complacent.
But these beliefs actually stem from mixed models which we talked about in Episode Ten.
One of the most common kinds of mixed models is where we attribute a positive outcome to a negative or self-flagellating thought. We somehow think that being mean to ourselves will motivate us. But if we don’t think it would work for our manager to treat us this way, why do we think it will work any better if we treat ourselves this way?
Somewhere along the way, we accidentally picked up the lie that thoughts like, “I’m not good enough” will lead to actions like “I work hard and I grow quickly and I’m super enthusiastic and motivated.”
But let’s look at what that model actually looks like. For me, the thought “I’m not good enough” creates a feeling of insufficient. And when I’m feeling insufficient, I don’t go take massive action in my life. I stew on what’s wrong with me.
We can’t beat ourselves up into getting more work done. It actually makes us slower. And the same for everybody who thinks that you can beat yourself up into growing faster. Exactly the same issue here. When we beat ourselves up, we slow ourselves down. We’re not speeding ourselves up the way we think we are.
So if the first reason we beat up on ourselves is because we think it’s the only or best way to avoid a negative outcome, what’s the second? Well, I think the second reason we beat up on ourselves is because it’s habit and we don’t even notice it anymore.
I remember countless dinners with friends and networking conversations several years ago where I would come home after every single one and I would sit on the couch and I would put my elbows on my thighs and just lean my head into my hands.
“Ugh. I am the worst.”
“I did it again.”
“I talked too much. I didn’t ask enough questions. I didn’t leave enough space for other people. I just talked all night.”
And I would just sit there in self-flagellation telling myself everything that I’d done wrong.
Until at some point, this was a habit. It’s just what I did after social gatherings. I told myself that I talked too much and I was a bad person. That no one was ever going to want to be my friend. And I was going to die alone, maybe tomorrow.
And of course, I believe that in the face of all sorts of evidence like people repeatedly inviting me to their house, and out to dinner, and folks who told me they loved hanging out with me. More on that and why we avoid all that evidence in just a minute.
So beating up on ourselves can become a pattern. It can become a habit. But at some point, that habit becomes one we don’t notice anymore.
For me, this is what I noticed this weekend. I just told myself, “I have big dreams. I’ve decided to pick up two different vocations in my life right now.” I have my full time job as a software engineering manager and I run a whole second business on the side as a leadership coach being here with you all.
And I absolutely love that choice. And I just use that to tell myself that I made this choice. That that the reason that I don’t get to take out time that I enjoy is because I decided I wanted to do other things with that time. I wanted it to be productive.
And that sounds so beautiful, right? So impactful making such a difference in the world.
But really whenever we feel that impatience to create something, that impatience to deliver more to be more, it’s often a sign that we think that who we are right now isn’t enough.
And that’s exactly what I was doing. I was telling myself that something would go wrong if I slowed down a little bit, if I took time to live my life and love it and enjoy it and create pleasure and contentment.
That my good enough status was temporary in some way. And it wouldn’t stick if I didn’t stay in perpetual motion.
And of course, as I said, I wasn’t thinking about it that way. I was just thinking about it as all of the things I’d committed to that I needed to get done before I could stop and take a break. But in reality, I was running from how I thought I’d beat myself up if I slowed down a little.
So we’ve talked about why we beat ourselves up, but why is it a problem? Simply put beating up on yourself is a problem because it deprives you of your dreams.
When we tell ourselves, we’re not good enough right now, we get on the hamster wheel of trying to prove we’re sufficient. Trying to prove we’re enough. And that means we spend all our time focused on the things we’re doing wrong right now. And trying to perfect the nitpicky details of our lives. Instead of looking ahead, looking out, looking big, to the dreams that we have and the things that we want to create, the things that actually matter most to us and that we’re most excited about. We lose our focus on those when we get stuck on the hamster wheel of thinking we’re not allowed to look bigger until we can tell ourselves that we’re perfect in every moment of everything we’re doing right now.
And I can tell you that this one bit me hard at work a few months ago.
I felt like there were places in my management where I wasn’t dotting my I’s and crossing my T’s. And instead of listening to the feedback that told me I was doing a really good job,that my team likes working together, that they liked the things we were working on, that I’d created a healthy and safe environment for them at work, that they were growing, and they loved the feedback that they were getting, and the ways that we were focusing on their growth.
Instead of thinking about those things, I was listening to the voice in my head that was telling me that if I didn’t have every single detail of every single day nailed down perfectly, I wasn’t allowed to think about my own growth. I wasn’t allowed to think about how I could expand my impact at work. How I could look at new responsibilities.
And how I could look for ways to make sure that the company was benefiting from the things that I love doing most like working with other leaders to help them be effective at leading their teams.
I was stuck on the hamster wheel of trying to prove to myself or to some other nebulous entity that I was good enough instead of working on the things that really mattered.
And that meant that instead of playing big, I was playing small. I wasn’t showing up with all the impact I could have. I wasn’t being as big and as badass as I knew I could be.
My beating up on myself was taking my focus off of my dreams and off of the biggest impact I could have in the world. It was a self fulfilling prophecy.
The other reason that beating up on ourselves deprives us of our dreams is that we don’t like feeling negative.
So when we teach our brains that we will beat up on ourselves when we perceive we’ve done something imperfectly, we’re also teaching our brain not to take risks. Our brain doesn’t want to take risks because it doesn’t want to give us reasons to beat up on ourselves more. Of course it doesn’t work because then we just choose to think mean thoughts because we’re not taking risks, or growing fast enough, or creating the impact in the world that we want to.
It’s kind of a damned if you do damned if you don’t cycle. The way to break it is by allowing yourself to try things and have them fail and have that be just fine.
The road to our dreams is paved with experiments that doesn’t work the way we thought they would. When we treat them as failures and when we beat up on ourselves we teach our brain not to take those risks. When we treat them as learnings and experiments and just another thing along the inevitable path to success, we reinforce the positive nature of that risk taking and we reach our dreams faster.
I also want to look for a moment at one of the phrases I hear people use a lot when they’re telling someone not to beat up on themselves and why it doesn’t work. I bet you’ve heard this one before.
Would you you talk to your best friend that way?
Would you talk to your daughter that way?
I don’t know about you but often I get that moment of realization of “You’re right! I wouldn’t.” But that realization doesn’t stick. It doesn’t change my behavior. Here’s why I think that is.
It’s because that question is based in shame. That question is us telling ourselves or our friends telling us that we’re doing something wrong. When we think that way, we’re just providing our brains with more evidence for believing that we’re doing it wrong and we’re not good enough right now.
So how do you break the habit of putting yourself down?
I want to start by talking about two biases our brain has.
The first is the negativity bias.
Our brain is going to look for things that are wrong with the world. This is an important survival feature that has been bred into our species and most others for millennia. We are constantly looking for what’s wrong in the world around us. And that translates into constantly looking for what’s wrong with us. Even when we have piles of wins and positive feedback to look at, our brain is still going to have that negativity bias bring the things that we’re least proud of and least certain of front and center and our attention over all of those other positive pieces.
The second bias is confirmation bias.
Our brains spend all day looking for evidence of the things we tell it to focus on. So when we beat ourselves up, we’re telling our brains to focus on the negative. When we tell our brains that we believe we’re bad and wrong and not good enough, we’re telling our brains to look for more evidence of that. And they’re actually doing it as a safety measure. Our brain wants us to be right. And so it’s going to look for evidence to confirm that. Confirmation bias.
When we put these two biases together, confirmation bias and negativity bias, it means that our brain is more likely to bring to our attention things that it thinks might be wrong or bad or dangerous. And then if we choose to continue to think about and believe those things, our brain will be trained to look further and further and further for more evidence of those “problems”.
The single best way to break the habit of putting yourself down is to use your confirmation bias in exactly the opposite way. It’s to focus on the positive beliefs that you want your brain to confirm.
Instead of your negativity bias and your confirmation bias working together to create a more and more negative picture of yourself in your own brain, you can use your confirmation bias to help cancel out the negativity bias.
Let’s try it right now.
What’s something you beat yourself up over recently?
Now, we could look into why you thought that and try to disprove it. But that would actually be triggering your confirmation bias to look for all of the evidence why that negative opinion was right. What we want to do is engage your confirmation bias in the other direction.
What are five positive things from the same part of your life you were beating yourself up about?
These don’t need to be big flashy accomplishments. Of course, it’s fine if they are. But your goal here is to choose positive statements about yourself that you can easily believe.
Remember, we’re not trying to disprove the thought you were beating yourself up with. We’re just giving your brain something positive to look for evidence of instead.
For example, I used to beat myself up a lot for not going to bed early enough. I might choose positive statements like “I brush my teeth every night” and “I know what time I need to go to bed in order to get a solid 8 hours of sleep”. Now, I wasn’t going to bed at that time. But I knew when it was. Practicing those positive statements would trigger my confirmation bias to look for all the things I was doing right at bedtime, instead of all the things I was doing wrong.
So practice the same thoughts that you just came up with, those five positive things that you just came up with from the area you were beating yourself up on. Practice those same five every day this week. You’ll notice your brain going to them more often and beating up on yourself less. It’s actually very similar to the Practicing New Thoughts techniques you learned in Episode 11.
Be sure to download the Podcast Guide, which has all this written out in an easy pdf along with fillable worksheet pages for the exercise we just did on the podcast and following up on it every day this week. You can download it from the episode page, which is linked in the shownotes.
Have an amazing week. Notice when you’re beating up on yourself. Allow that emotion, and then offer your brain some thoughts of things in that area of your life that you’re doing well. It may feel awkward at first, but you’re engaging your confirmation bias to help you find more and more ways you’re kicking butt and doing an amazing job each day. This is the easiest way to redirect your self-talk away from putting yourself down and back toward your goals. See you next week!
If you loved this episode and want to dive deeper into improving your own emotional health so you can feel better and have bigger results at work, you have to join me for a one-on-one call. We’ll talk about where you are, where you want to be, and create a solid plan to get from here to there. Just visit go.exceptional.vision/call. See you there!