How to Stop the Self Criticism

Recently, I had someone tell me, “My resolution was to do better this year, but I have a constant tape in my head of every dumb, awful, or stupid thing I’ve ever said and it just loops again and again and again. How do I stop the looping?”

Maybe you have this problem, too (at least for some things, some times.) If so, read on, because this is how I responded.

The looping is happening because you are allowing it. (I know it doesn’t seem like it, but you can prove it — watch an engaging movie or read an engrossing book. While you are involved with it, your brain is NOT looping on those things.)

Here is a technique you can use that will help you break the cycle.

You can’t just stop your mind from thinking… it will process no matter what. So what you do is to REPLACE the negative thoughts with other thoughts (positive ones are good, but any other thoughts will work). Your forebrain really can’t pay attention to two things at once. So, by setting your attention on anything else, you will stop the looping.

It may help to mentally say “Cancel, Cancel” whenever you notice the loop running. (There is no magic in the phrase, but it does provide an anchor for raising your awareness and breaking the loop.) After saying it, deliberately think of something good that you have done (whether large or small.) Then, reset your attention to whatever you are supposed to be doing at the time. (If there is no requirement for your attention, then have a good daydream or fantasy.)

As a preparation to help, make yourself a list of things that you have done right — and things people value you for. (I know that you can have a large list because we all do some good things but we often overlook them. If you run into a blank on this, then imagine a friend who is a lot like you and then list their good qualities… you will have many, if not all, of those qualities, too.)

Add to that list by noticing ONE thing each day that you have done right (or smart or helpful or kind or….) On some days you will find more than one — and that is good — but make sure you find at least one thing (no matter how small) to notice. Add that to your list. (Note: the list can eventually be only in your mind, but you should start by making it an actual written list — handwritten, not typed, and carried with you so you can refer to it when you need to.)

Over time, you will automatically start to think of the positives and the good instead of the bad. In fact, when you get to that point, if you do something that is “dumb, awful or stupid”, you will actually say to yourself, “No big deal, this is an exception. I really am much better than this incident indicates.”

By the way, this is not positive or wishful thinking, but a proven method that takes advantage of the way the brain works. If you have questions about this, please feel free to ask.

Remember this: you get more in your life of what you set your attention on. If you want to do more dumb things, then remember them, focus on them, even obsess on them. If you want more grace in your life, then focus on grace, on the graceful things you do, and notice when you do graceful things.

If a part of you has concerns about not beating yourself up for the dumb stuff you occassionally do, then try this. Make a pact with yourself that for one month (or better still, one year) you will forget about them and focus on the good. Then, at the end of the time (one month or one year) if you aren’t better off, then you can agree with yourself that you will go back to focusing on your shortcomings (including saying or doing “dumb” things.)

By the way, none of this is instant (or even overnight.) It will still take effort and determination. At first, it may seem like you are saying “Cancel Cancel” every two minutes. But if you stay with it, it will quickly improve and get easier and easier. When you do this you are literally rewiring your brain and that doesn’t quite happen overnight.

I would love to hear your experiences with this.

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