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How to transform this self-defeating habit into a powerful tool for success

It’s easy to fall into the habit of being self-critical, thinking that being hard on yourself will lead to success. You’re encouraged to be perfect, productive and most of all a winner. There’s nothing wrong with having goals in life. But, some people have difficulty knowing when to ease up on themselves and stop the continuous self-criticism. If you are in the self-judgment mode most of the time, you are actually hindering your chances of achieving your goals. Taking yourself to task when you make a mistake, saying damaging things like “I can’t believe how stupid I am,” actually creates fertile ground for more failures to occur.

In fact, scientific data reveals that when you use harsh words to criticize yourself, you activate your sympathetic nervous system, which elevates your stress hormone level. In that state, you feel weaker and more emotional leading you to be less open to learning and growing from your failures. Studies show that self-compassion is the element needed to create resilience in the face of failure. In fact, self-compassion is key to bouncing back stronger, wiser and with more stamina. It’s a far better alternative than self-criticism when wanting to accomplish goals and create a happier life. In fact, self-compassion can activate your biological nurturance and soothing system.

In its simplest form, self-compassion is being kind to yourself in unkind situations; like when you make a mistake. Treating yourself as you would a best friend, with understanding and tenderness, rather than pointing a finger and blaming yourself.  Failure is a normal part of the human experience. It doesn’t mean that you are a failure.

As actors, you are continuously competing with others to get work. You are prone to feeling insecure, anxious and extremely self –critical.   Competition can lead to feelings of isolation and mistrust when among fellow actors. Rather than seeing them as colleagues, they become obstacles in the way of your success.   Those views promote feelings of insecurity and chip away at your confidence and sense of ease in the world. Don’t let your self-worth depend on out-competing your fellow actors. Instead follow these simple suggestions to create more self-compassion and inner strength.

  • Recognize how you respond to failure. Take an honest look at what your inner dialogue and overall emotional state is when things don’t go your way. Do you blame yourself? Do you use harsh words to scold yourself? Are you unforgiving? The key element to making changes is to be aware of how you show up in your life. You can’t let go of anything you don’t own first.
  • This is easy. You can do this.   Don’t complicate things by cluttering your mind with too much thinking. Refrain from over analyzing things. When you catch yourself being self-critical, STOP, TAKE A BREATH, AND LET THE THOUGHTS GO. Just like beautiful clouds in the sky drifting by, release them.
  • Here’s the yummy part, BEFRIEND YOURSELF. This concept could sound weird if you’re not used to thinking this way. But, that’s okay. Change can feel uncomfortable until it becomes familiar. We’re interested in the greater good here, the big picture. A little discomfort is well worth it. Think of a self-compassion mantra that is easy to remember. Create something that speaks to you. For example, “I am perfect just the way I am right now,” or “I unconditionally love myself right now,” or “It’s all okay and everything will be all right.” Use a mantra to get hold of yourself when you get stuck in an emotional storm. Take your time and find a phrase that feels really loving and soothing to you.

Keep practicing this method and eventually it will become part of the way you operate in life. Self-compassion will make you more understanding and gentler with yourself.   It will lead you to identify less with your mistakes and more with your humanity. Remember, failure is a normal part of the human experience. Your goal is not to get rid of your experience or berate yourself for it, but to learn and grow and become a better person for having gone through it.

I’ve created The Conscious Actor Inspiration Journal; to help actors develop awareness of what inspires them. Beautiful pages filled with inspirational quotes to help keep you strong minded. For New York actors, the journal is available at Drama Book Shop Los Angeles actors may pick up the journal at Paper Chase Press

Conscious Actor articles are not a substitution for professional psychotherapy.

Bonnie Katz, MFT is a licensed therapist in private practice. Her goal as a therapist is to help clients reach “optimal mental wellness”, so that they can feel happiness, fulfillment and joy in their everyday lives. For more information on Bonnie’s therapy practice, visit her website.