Depression, Mindset

Don’t beat yourself up after mistakes. Do this instead

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When you are trying to reach a goal, quit a bad habit, or change any unwanted behavior, setbacks and relapses are part of the process. But being too hard on yourself, overly self-critical, or beating yourself up makes things worse.

It’s a common misperception that feeling bad about relapsing is a way of holding yourself accountable and will help you do better next time.

However, studies have shown that it actually creates more damage than good. In fact, you may be surprised to know that if you want to prevent future willpower relapses, it’s better to let yourself off the hook for your mistakes.

Beating yourself up generates shame and guilt that will, in turn, undermine future self-control. These negative feelings about yourself put you right back in the misery and self-loathing mode that most likely triggers the unwanted behavior in the first place.

So, how do you stop beating yourself up and being overly critical when you make a mistake?

You stop beating yourself up by following these simple steps: 1) refrain from punishing yourself; 2) reassure yourself; 3) understand why you relapsed; 4) adjust your tactics, and 5) Rinse and repeat.

But first things first.

Setting yourself up for success: keep track

Before we get into the actual steps you can take to stop being mean to yourself when you slip up, you must keep track of everything you do. Keeping track is key to ensuring you move towards your goals.

It doesn’t matter if you took a step forward or a step back: write it all down.

Are you trying to eat less junk food? Then start taking note of everything you eat during the day. Do you want to exercise more? Keep track of your daily steps or how many times you went to the gym this week.

Don’t let your emotions dictate if you did “good” or “bad”; rely on the data. Only when you have a clear, accurate picture of your behavior, can you objectively evaluate yourself, and improve.

Now, on to the actual steps you can take to stop beating yourself up when you experience a setback.

1. Refrain from beating yourself up

Refraining from beating yourself up is essential to developing self-respect, and becoming more loving and compassionate with yourself.

If you think this means you will become complacent, you are wrong. You can make mistakes and still be nice to yourself and maintain progress.

But when you’ve been beating yourself up for years for every mistake you make, it becomes difficult to change or to even know how to stop. But you can learn.

Know your “why” and go back to it often

When you face the third or tenth setback, you might start feeling discouraged. In these moments, it will be important to remember why you are trying to change. Hang on to that ‘why’ because it will be challenged again and again along the way.

Instead of being overly self-critical, save your energy and keep focusing on your why.

Because if you keep pushing through, you will eventually learn that it’s not about how you feel, it’s about what you want.

Don’t punish failures and mistakes; focus on the accomplishment

Don’t dwell on the slip-ups, and don’t punish yourself for it. Instead, focus on the accomplishment that preceded the fall. Think about it, if you went backward, it’s likely because there was a step forward at some point.

So, make it a habit to reward achievements and celebrate every one of them.

Related article: How do you reward yourself effectively?

Did you eat healthier food in the last 3 days before you succumbed to that bag of sweets? Then congratulate yourself for those 3 days. If next time you relapse after only 2 days, it’s still okay. Two days is still an improvement compared to “no” day. So, celebrate that too!

Remember that it’s not about shaming your way out of unwanted behavior. It’s about preserving your spirit and encouraging progress.

Catch yourself doing it

Becoming aware that you are being overly critical or mean to yourself is half the battle.

Start paying close attention to your inner monologue. FYI, paying attention to a behavior is not the same as engaging in that behavior. Learn the difference.

Challenge your inner critic using Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a treatment approach that helps you recognize negative or unhelpful thought and behavior patterns. CBT aims to help you identify and explore the ways your emotions and thoughts can affect your actions. Once you notice these patterns, you can begin learning to reframe your thoughts in a more positive and helpful way.”

I have found Cognitive behavioral therapy to be highly effective for combating self-loathing, negative self-talk, and overall self-criticism. If you want to explore the topic, I highly recommend this book.

Understand that beating yourself up is sabotaging your efforts

“The harder you are on yourself when you have a willpower failure, the more likely you are to have the same failure again, and the bigger it’s going to be when you do”. Kelly McGonigal Ph.D.

As soon as you understand that, I mean really understand it, you have another valid reason to refrain from doing it.

2. Reassure and forgive yourself for the setback

What you are trying to do (i.e., change) is hard, so give yourself a break. The simple fact that you are trying to do it is already an accomplishment. You are not lousy, you are human.

When you try to change a bad habit, it gives way to a constant battle in your head between two sides, and this can be incredibly frustrating and exhausting. Furthermore, keeping track of and remembering long-term goals and core values is a hard job for your brain. Acknowledge this.

Learn to speak to yourself as if you were a child you deeply cared about. Don’t be mean, forgive your mistakes, and reassure yourself when you slip up.

With forgiveness and self-compassion and love, you will make more progress than if you constantly chastise yourself.

3. Understand why you relapsed

Take some time to reflect as objectively as possible on what happened. What triggered the relapse? Were you particularly tired? Is it that time of the month? Did something upset you? Were you hungry? Sad? Influenced by other people?

Next, figure out what you could have done differently and why you didn’t this time. Is it something you could have anticipated? Is there something you can plan differently so that next time it doesn’t happen this way?

Ask yourself these questions every time you slip up; It’s a faster and more effective way to learn from your mistakes.

4. Adjust your behavior

Now it’s time to adjust your behavior and act on what you’ve learned from the previous step:

  • Have an answer ready so that the next time someone offers you a cigarette, you know what to respond.
  • Pack a healthy snack so you won’t be tempted to eat doughnuts at your next office meeting.
  • Have a meal ready for supper so that the next time you are working late, you don’t find yourself too tired to cook and order a pizza, etc.

It’s important to be realistic and work around your weaknesses. I don’t mean weaknesses in a negative way. I simply mean our limits. We all have them. It’s a fact. Why not simply acknowledge that and work with them in mind instead of constantly fighting them?

5. Try again, and again… and again.

When I tried to quit smoking weed, I tried and “failed” non-stop for a year. Eleven months of going one step forward, two steps backward. Again, and again, and again.

Honestly, I still can’t believe I kept trying. But I think it’s only because I implemented the strategies on this list and stopped being mean to myself.

I simply learned something from every setback and tried again. Until one day, there was no more relapse.

Well… I haven’t relapsed, yet.

To each their own battle ????  

Remember, shaming yourself or feeling bad about setbacks and relapses will not help you improve.

What bad habit are you trying to change?

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About Steph

I am a personal growth/self-management enthusiast. I was able to completely transform my life using everything I share here. I hope this blog helps you transform yours as well.
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