For many of us, the start of a new year triggers the desire to turn a new page in our lives. Whether that means getting in shape or getting out of debt, cutting out the carbs or cutting down on screen time, calling mom more often or carving out time for family nights, this kind of personal goal setting not only tests our motivation, but can also pile on a heavy load of self-judgment.
When we decide to change a specific behavior, or up our game in a certain area, all too often we can’t even take that first step in the right direction. Why? Not because we’re lazy or don’t know what needs to be done, but because we’re too weighed down by feeling bad about ourselves.
And while a little self-criticism might be the kick in the pants we need, too much negative self-talk can stop even the most motivated among us in our tracks.
Furthermore, defining yourself by the very trait or habit you’re hoping to change—thinking “I am a squishy blob,” “I’m a financial failure,” “I’m a neglectful daughter”—practically guarantees that you’ll find yourself paralyzed on the road to self-improvement.
Try taking a look at your unwanted behaviors and putting a different spin on the message you tell yourself by substituting “I feel” for “I am.” So, in your thoughts, you replace “I am a financial failure” with “I feel overwhelmed by debt.” This small shift in phrasing can make all the difference, as the reframed message describes how you feel in this moment, rather than painting your bad behavior as the essence of who you are.
With this fresh outlook, you can take the next step: declare to yourself—and, better yet, to a friend who will hold you accountable—small and specific ways that you can turn around your situation. So instead of saying, “I am a squishy blob” and collapsing onto your couch in defeat, say, “I feel out of shape, so starting next month, I’m going to ride my bike to work three times a week.” Or “I feel overwhelmed by debt, so I’m going to get rid of all but one of my credit cards immediately and start paying 25 percent more than the minimum payment each billing cycle.”
The way of the warrior asks us to maintain a nonjudgmental stance when assessing where we are and how we can improve. No matter where you’re starting from, you can pause and ask yourself: What is one tiny step I can take in the right direction? And with the load of self-judgment off your back, you can move forward.
Consider this: stop the trash-talk about yourself