Valentine’s Day is ostensibly the “day of love.” It’s a holiday dedicated to showing others how much we love and care about them. Yet, how often do we really slow down to think about how we actually express our gratitude and appreciation for others?
At a recent yoga class, the instructor started by asking, “Who is the person who talks to you the most?” I think to myself, well, probably my husband, my girlfriends, my parents, my colleagues (certainly not my teenage boys!). “Yourself,” she responded, “the inner dialogue we have with our self is our loudest and most prominent voice.” She went on to ask, “So, what do you say to yourself? How do you speak to yourself? Is it with love, acceptance, and kindness or is it with a harsh voice, always critiquing yourself, highlighting your inadequacies and weaknesses?” Her challenge to us was to quiet the critical voice in our head and let our words of gratitude and self-love prevail – at least for the yoga class – one whole hour.
So, I tried it. My hypothesis was that I had plenty of self-love. I’m confident and work hard to appreciate all the great things in my life. However, what I soon realized was that much of my inner dialogue during yoga was critical or negative. “My balance is off, my shoulder hurts, I don’t feel strong, I’m not flexible, I’m struggling to hold this pose.” Rarely, did my inner voice say, “I look awesome in that mirror, my pose is balanced and beautiful, I’m healthy and strong, I’m lucky to be here.”
And, I know from my work as an executive coach, I’m not alone. Our inner voice is often hyper critical. Why is this and how does it impact our ability show acceptance and encouragement to those around us? If we are critical of ourselves, are we equally critical of others? How does this play out in the workplace? At home with our families?
I often work with leaders who hear the following feedback from their colleagues:
· You’re overly impatient
· You have an extremely high bar and expectation of others
· You don’t provide much positive feedback
· You struggle to celebrate success and you’re always on to the “next goal”
· You’re critical of others, particularly those you deem as less capable
Often, those who are the most critical of their colleagues are even more critical of themselves. I know many leaders who willingly admit, “I’m my own worst critic!” They put an extreme amount of pressure on themselves to excel, to overperform, and to achieve “success”. Their inner voice is constantly telling them they aren’t good enough, yet. They don’t want to fail. They struggle to appreciate what they’ve done well, and instead focus on what they could have done better. Most would say, “I don’t expect anything of others I wouldn’t expect of myself,” and this is in fact, true.
Does this sound like you or anyone you know? If so, it’s time to shift the paradigm and learn the power of positive self-talk. Here are four tips to help you make a meaningful shift to self-love so you can put harmful self-critique behind you:
1. Tune into your inner voice.
Most of us don’t realize the person who talks to us the most is ourselves, so the first step is to become acutely aware of what you’re saying to yourself and about yourself. If a highly critical, negative voice has “taken over” then it’s important to intentionally add positive thoughts and try to reduce the negative or fear-driven critique. Brené Brown advices, “Talk to yourself like you would to someone you love.”
2. Surround yourself with positive people.
Have you noticed that negative energy begets negativity? The same is true for positivity. Make a conscious decision to be around people who are positive and bring out the best in you.
3. Emphasize what you do have, not what you don’t.
Instead of focusing on what went wrong or what should have gone better, slow down and truly appreciate the small wins, the positive momentum, and the forward progress. Oprah Winfrey reminds us, “Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.”
4. Be grateful.
Practice gratitude by giving positive recognition to at least one person every day. Take time to say “thank you” and “great work” to those around you. Acknowledge a job well done, no matter how small the accomplishment.
For this Valentine’s Day, give your colleagues, friends, and family the greatest gift of all – self-love, gratitude, and positivity.