My children were building Lego the other day… each in unique ways. One was following directions, able to visualize all sides of the structure without moving it or the instructions (a skill I seriously lack). The other was building his own design from “the blueprint in my mind.” As they were talking about their builds, they became competitive…trying to determine who’s was better and why. I reminded them of the importance of being different and told them how lucky they were to have each other so that they could learn and collaborate in awesome ways. They pondered this and agreed…for now.
But then I got thinking. How is it that at such a young age, we become competitive. Why do differences mean better/worse; good/bad; smart/foolish? And as we age, it only intensifies- we want to “win” and set high standards to do so. I find that many of my clients see themselves negatively- they ignore their positives attributes and successes and focus on the parts that do not measure up to the high standards they have set. The impossibility of achieving these standards nearly guarantees that they berate themselves more, increasing that negative view of self.
How do we stop this? How can we be happy with who we are and the successes we do have? A good first step is awareness. Sometimes we do not even know how often negative messages play in our brains. Try to pay attention to them- write them down- what do they say? You may be amazed, and maybe a bit saddened, by how frequent those messages play in your mind. Now try to add a little self-compassion when you hear those messages. Say to yourself what a loving friend would say to you “I tried my best; I worked really hard; I am successful, etc.” Really try to let those kind words wash over you. Shifting the focus of self-talk from comparison and judgement toward compassion and kindness takes practice, but it allows us to tap into our internal strengths that can be easily overlooked.