Learning new skills and building habits is HARD.
When you’re a kid, you’re learning all the time, you’re practicing, you’re getting better.
You’re trying new things. New things that you’re not good at yet. You’re used to not being good at stuff.
And when you’re a kid and you’re not good at stuff, you know it’s part of the learning process.
But as an adult you start to specialize. You spend more and more of your time doing the stuff you are good at, and you get less and less used to the uncomfortable feeling of doing something you’re not yet good at.
And then, you decide that you do want to learn new skills. You do want to build new habits. Or perhaps even break bad habits. Even if it’s hard.
And you’re motivated to do it. You make a plan. You get started.
You start to do something that hinders your progress without even knowing it.
And you know what that thing is?
You beat yourself up for not being perfect, for not being good enough, fast enough, for making mistakes.
You say things to yourself like:
- “I know HOW to do this, so why aren’t I doing this?”
- “My willpower isn’t strong enough”
- “I must not be motivated enough”
- “I’m stupid”
- “I always make the same mistakes”
- “Why bother?”
- “What’s wrong with me?”
And you know what? That kind of talk is super-unproductive.
Being harsh on yourself doesn’t help you get better, faster. In fact, it slows you down. It starts to take a toll. It decreases motivation.
If berating yourself worked it would have worked already.
Think about it:
Let’s say you’re helping your kid learn to ride a bike. And every time they fall off you say “just try harder; what’s wrong with you?”. Or, “I’ve already shown you how; I don’t understand why you can’t do it”.
Or, pretend it’s your new hire’s first day on the job. You show them something once, they make a mistake and you say “What’s wrong with you? Why did we hire you anyway”.
Well, you would never do that to someone else, right?
It sounds so absurd. You know that saying things like this to anyone else will definitely not help them improve.
Instead, it’s likely to make them fearful, anxious, more prone to future mistakes.
And yet, you do this to yourself.
But you know what?
With practice, this is something you can change. You can change the way you talk to yourself.
And here’s what I see over and over again, in my kids, in my clients, in myself”:
- If you praise yourself every time you do something “right”, every time you get 1% better, every time you give it your best shot, well, you’re going to want to keep trying.
And you know what happens when you keep trying, when you practice?
You get better.
But the fastest way to discourage yourself is t keep up that negative self-talk.
And the fastest way to make progress? Treat yourself nicely. Encourage yourself.
Our brains respond more positively to positive reinforcement, meaning it’ll be easier to build habits and muster motivation than if you beat yourself up.
So go ahead and congratulate yourself for the smallest of improvements and efforts.
- You did end of day planning once? Go you! You did it! Let’s do it again.
- You resisted the urge to check your email when you were doing some deep work. Fantastic! Personal high five!
Give yourself micro-praise.
And when you’re feeling you’re not quite there, when you want to be better than you are, all you need to do is add one little word to the end of your sentence.
What is that word?
Turn “I’m not good at planning” to “I’m not good at planning YET”. (Thank you Carol Dweck!)