Town Talk Features

The Honest Truth: Critical Information

My wife says I’m too hard on myself. But if I’m not criticizing myself, how will I ever improve or get better?

Jill: In my work, I haven’t met anyone who berated themselves into becoming more successful, well-regarded or thinner for the long haul. One of my favorite clients tried to get her backlogged paperwork under control by repeatedly saying to herself, “You lazy procrastinator! Get going.” That harsh pep talk led her straight to hours of playing Candy Crush and more piles of unprocessed paper.

Sometimes, harsh self-criticism can spark a little bit of action. But it doesn’t last. Long term, it drives us into procrastination, avoidance or numbing behaviors (hello wine and Snickers). You might say, “But it’s the truth. I am a procrastinator.” That kind of harsh self-labeling isn’t helpful.

Try talking to yourself the same way you’d talk to someone you like and respect. My client started saying to herself, “You can do this. Fifteen minutes at a time.” And she did—paperwork conquered.

Beth: Some people think you have to suffer to improve, but that’s simply not true. Why not try switching to a different channel, one that doesn’t require harsh suffering? Neuroscience says you actually improve more with positive reinforcement.

Try this brilliant tool created by Dr. Kathryn Cramer: Scan, snap, savor. Scan for any and all signs of progress (no matter how little or seemingly insignificant). Snap a mental picture of what you’re doing that’s working. Savor the good thoughts and feelings for two to three seconds.

Give yourself some credit, even for little things. You put on sunscreen today? Bravo. Doing this multiple times a day—especially at bedtime—can produce powerful results.

My boss claims she’s just giving me feedback, but I feel like I’m getting criticized all of the time. This isn’t the first time someone has told me I’m oversensitive. What can I do?

Jill: This often has been a challenge for me. When I worked as a TV reporter for many years, I got a constant barrage of criticism about everything from my hair to the way I crossed my legs. My default reaction to any feedback (whether it was constructive or destructive) was defensiveness and/or self-loathing. Neither one was very helpful. It’s taken a long time, but learning to pause, even for a few seconds, before reacting to feedback has been really helpful for me. It often gives me a clearer picture of whether the feedback is helpful or something I can just let go.

Beth: I’m somewhat suspicious when someone gives you their unsolicited criticism and then dismisses your complaint as being overly sensitive. Giving feedback from a place of frustration isn’t productive and is usually shaming. It might be worth it, in a separate conversation, to discuss other ways your boss can make suggestions without diminishing you in the process. The current method isn’t working. I’m betting there is room for both sides to improve in this scenario.

Pictured above: Jill Farmer and Beth Chesterton

Jill Farmer is a master certified life coach, author and time management aficionado. Beth Chesterton is a master certified executive coach and an expert in organizational psychology.


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