You’ve probably noticed that you are harder on yourself than you are on other people. Most of us have developed the habit of negative self-talk, which is that voice inside that constantly criticizes you. Your appearance, your habits, your choices, your social status, your bank balance, your talents—none of these things are ever good enough in the eyes of this harsh judge that resides in your brain.
You could call this voice your “inner parent” because it is always trying to correct you, just like your parents did when you were a small child. But this parent is not a very good parent. It rarely balances its corrections with praise, and it fails to offer abundant expressions of love in addition to correction, like a good parent should. Instead, it does nothing but tear you down, which is quite abusive if you think about it.
So how can we become better parents to ourselves? How can we change the constant flow of negative self-talk into something more positive and constructive? Here are a few tips:
1. Stop comparing
Most negative inner dialog develops from the habit of always comparing yourself to others. The problem with this is that usually there will always be someone who excels beyond you in some way. There will always be people who are smarter, prettier, richer, more famous, more successful, and so on. Even if you achieve something great—you get into the college of your dreams, buy a house in an upscale neighborhood, or get promoted to top management—someone else will eventually come along to beat you at that, too. The purpose and value of life is something much deeper than competition, so learn to appreciate who you are now, and to appreciate who other people are, too, without the need to compete with or outdo them in some way. You will have a better relationship with yourself and with others if you do.
2. Praise what you are doing right
Your inner child, the part of you that wants to explore and grow in the world, needs lots of praise, just like any child. If all you do is bully yourself with criticism, you will lose confidence in yourself, feeling you can do nothing right. This is of course not truthful, since for every mistake, there are many successes. You may not notice them, though, because you have learned to take them for granted. If you are trying to develop the habit of waking up earlier, for example, don’t beat yourself up because you slept through the alarm. Instead, tell yourself, “You did a good job setting the alarm to go off earlier. Next time, you will get out of bed when it rings.” Then, do whatever you can to support your intention—moving the alarm closer, setting a second alarm, or the like. Even if you fail again, speak to yourself in a positive way and praise your ability to keep trying without giving up.
3. Quiet your mind and experience the nowSometimes, you need to calm down the inner parental voice or just silence it completely. That voice, used in the right way, can be a helpful source of guidance for our growth, but sometimes you need to learn how to just be, without the constant need to evaluate. This sort of quietness is how you can truly begin to appreciate your True Self and the magnificence of the world around you. For this reason, I think that meditation is an essential practice for anyone and everyone in today’s busy, chaotic world. With practice, you can learn to turn the inner voice on and off, according to your need.
4. Understand the value of failure
Often, you might become very angry at yourself when you fail if you think that failure somehow reflects badly upon your value or potential as a person. This is not true, and it is a very destructive belief that you should drop. Failure, in fact, is a necessary part of learning and growing. Have you ever seen a baby learn to walk without ever falling down? Has any athlete become world-class without ever losing? No . . . failure is simply part of the process of learning to become better. So, the next time you fail, use your inner voice to help you figure out what you can change, but do not use it to punish or devalue yourself. This kind of self-talk will make it harder for you to succeed, not easier, so always look for the positive purpose of your mistakes.
5. Take everything step by step
Your inner voice might also be very impatient with you sometimes, becoming angry because you are not succeeding or improving as fast as you would like. This, too, is detrimental to growth, so learn to accept that change takes time. A caterpillar cannot become a butterfly instantaneously; it must first grow as a caterpillar by eating lots of leaves, and then it must find a nice branch, and finally it will spin its cocoon. The number of days it spends in the cocoon will depend on the species—from a few days to many months. No matter how long it is, nature will allow exactly the right amount of time and everything will happen according to the proper timing. The same is true for us—the time we need to grow is the time we need to grow. So, please allow the rhythms of the universe to find its flow in your life since rushing it along will do no good anyway.
All this amounts to a very simple idea: love yourself. Your inner guidance is always there to guide you, and sometimes it might be all you’ve got to help you keep going! So, learn to use it in the most positive, constructive way possible—as a supportive friend that it always there to give you encouragement and to help you along your way.
I introduce more ways of loving and valuing yourself in my book, Living Tao: Timeless Principles for Everyday Enlightenment.