Most of us have a really mean streak in us – it is mean to us much more than others. I’m referring to that tendency we have to judge ourselves against an impossibly high set of standards. We don’t usually realise that we’re even doing it – we just feel like we should have done better: been more caring; expressed it better; finished it more quickly; done it more thoroughly – you get my drift?
The questions we need to ask ourselves are: whom are we comparing ourselves to? And what standard exactly are we expecting ourselves to achieve?
In terms of whom we are comparing ourselves to, it seems to me that it’s generally in the realms of those who are much better at whatever it is than we are – not a bit better, which might spur us on to enhance our performance, but a lot better, presently unachievable for us – now that’s mean!
In terms of standards we are expecting of ourselves, well, it’s usually a level of perfection isn’t it! I know I have a tendency to expect my behaviour to be saintly in its compassion, forgiveness, kindness, equanimity, even though I know perfectly well that I’m no saint!
I am reminded of Robert Holden’s statement that there is no such thing as a happy perfectionist, and that is definitely true, because no matter how well we do, we are unlikely to hit perfection, so always have a reason to castigate ourselves rather than be pleased with ourselves.
Now these standards and expectations we set ourselves are largely unconscious, so a useful way to counteract their effect is to consciously decide what standard or expectation you will have about any particular aspect of your life where you tend to beat yourself up for not being good enough.
If we assess where we are now, and then set ourselves a small step further on, then we can have an assessment of our own progress which is fair, instead of another reason to be mean to ourselves. By doing this beforehand, we give ourselves motivation and encouragement before the event, instead of beating ourselves up after the event.
For example, if you tend to be impatient, see if you can take a deep breath and walk away from whatever is making you impatient the next time you feel it. If you’d like to be fitter, just set yourself to walk round the block once a day. Give yourself a sense of success and improvement rather than a sense of failure.
And remember, sometimes good enough is good enough. We aren’t here to be perfect, we’re here to be human.