Being Your Own Worst Critic

The holiday season is a time of celebration – spending time with family and friends, reflecting on the past year, and setting goals for the future. Most have a list of to-do’s before the end of the year; you have checked it twice, and the only objective is to knock out all impending tasks so that the official holiday celebrating can commence. The end of the year also signals a traditional time for annual performance reviews – a time to receive praise, constructive criticism, and feedback from those around us. Whether you are tasked with giving those reviews or receiving one, there is one more to-do that should be added this time of year.

Conduct a review of your own self.

Most would say the cliché that they are their own worst critic, but consider putting a formal structure to this process. All individuals fall into one of two categories. The first has an incessant looming cloud of pressure creeping in from all angles, resulting in a never-ending feeling of not living up to your possible potential. The other lives in a naive bliss, refusing to make eye contact with the person they see staring back in the mirror. Regardless of which camp you are in, the best leaders have a supreme level of self-awareness and emotional intelligence. Introspective reflection is essential for leaders as it gives the brain time to take a break from the noise, unravel cause and effect, and create meaning. This meaning creates a catalyst for actions rooted in purpose and significance.

The Questions
In experiential learning, enlightenment comes from taking the opportunity to think about what you experience – both personally and professionally.

  • What are the things I’m most passionate about?
  • What are my greatest accomplishments in life so far?
  • What am I most grateful for?
  • What are the biggest things I’ve learned in life to date?
  • What are my goals in life? (health, career, family, financial, spiritual)
  • Who are the people in my life who have achieved similar goals? What can I learn from them?
  • Who are the five people I spend the most time with? Are they enabling or holding me back, or inspiring me to be a better person than I am today?
  • If I were to die tomorrow, what would be my biggest regret?
  • What limiting beliefs am I holding on to? Are they helping me achieve my goals, or holding me back?
  • What bad habits do I want to break? How?
  • What good habits do I want to cultivate? How?
  • Am I living my life to the fullest right now? If not, what would represent a more full life for me?
  • Who do I want to be one year from today? What do I need to do to initiate that growth?
  • How hard am I willing to work to get what I want?

Rationalizing Failure
Most would agree that the things worth having and achieving in life do not come easy. When the going gets tough, we have a tendency to rationalize why we are not succeeding in our pursuits:

“I don’t have enough time.”
“It just wasn’t in the cards.”
“I decided it wasn’t really what I wanted.”
“It is not the right time, I will pursue when I have more balance.”

Rationalization is the use of feeble but seemingly plausible arguments either to justify something that is difficult to accept or to make it seem ‘not so bad after all’. We do this because it’s hard to accept the reality: if you want to succeed in any endeavor worth pursing, you have to put in the time and often be comfortable with being uncomfortable. We all know that it is easier to blame external factors instead of blaming yourself, and this habit can be one of the toughest to break, but is a true necessity for a high level of self-awareness.

The Problem
The next question: What holds us back from taking action on the change needed to improve ourselves? In other words, why do 98% of New Year’s Resolutions fail? It’s simple: the rewards of these changes are in the future, when the discomfort and discipline are right here and right now. When there’s an absence of a compelling reason, or drive, you will be a thermostat. You’ll work as hard as necessary to keep the temperature comfortable – and when it reaches that temperature, you’ll turn off until needed again. Discussing change and goals can be inspiring, energizing, and stimulating! Yet it feels tough, awkward, annoying, frightening, and completely unpleasant to discuss the discipline needed to reach those goals. There is no shame in being average or competent if you are unwilling to pay the price of excellence! Simply ask yourself if you are willing to pay that price, and what the price looks like for you.

Allocating Attention
Most of us are used to focusing on externally oriented attention. It is simpler and more straightforward to focus on something outside of ourselves, such as work, television, a significant other, children, or almost anything that engages our senses. Our internal world is far more complicated, with a varied landscape of emotions, feelings, and perceptions. Yet it is often the internal world that determines whether we are having a good day or not, whether we are happy or unhappy. That’s why we can feel angry despite beautiful surroundings or feel perfectly happy despite being stuck in traffic. For this reason perhaps, this newly discovered pathway of attention may hold the key to greater well-being.

—Karen Schmidt

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