January is New Year’s Resolution season. Many people chose to begin the New Year with a new goal—be it to lose weight, eat healthier, or find a better job. Unfortunately, we often give up on our goal in the first month and then feel that we have failed. Why do we give up on our New Year’s resolution? Part of the reason may be our critical self-talk.
Each of us has a critical voice. Once we expose the critical voice, my clients often tell me that their personal critical voice is much harsher than what they would ever say to anyone else. Our critical voice may call us a failure, tell us we’re worthless, and constantly inform us of what we “should” be doing. We don’t speak to other people this way, but we chose to berate ourselves for every mistake. And then what happens inside? We often feel deflated, exhausted, and feel like giving up.
Let’s transfer this process to the New Year’s resolution experience. If we are trying to change a long-standing habit, e.g. eating differently, there will be times that our efforts fall short. At this point, the critical voice often kicks in and begins beating us up for our mistake: “You can’t do this.” “You failed.” “You should be able to do this, but you can’t.” Inside, we feel disappointed and defeated. We feel like a failure. This feeling then weighs heavy on us and exhausts us, and we use up our resources to fight it. We may feel overwhelmed by our inability to make progress. Because our resources are depleted, we then find it difficult to make a renewed effort the next day. We start the next day from a defeated position, so we are even further behind in our efforts to change a habit.
Some people believe that the critical voice is helpful because it forces us strive to be better. I am suggesting that striving to improve ourselves is positive, but the critical voice often does not accomplish this task. More likely, the critical voice deflates us and leaves us feeling immobilized—the exact opposite from what we are hoping to achieve.
How can we stop these good intentions from going sour? A part of the answer is softening our critical voice. Imagine what you would tell a friend if he/she had a set-back. You probably wouldn’t tell your friends: “You can’t do this. You failed.” You would tell your friend that set-backs are normal, but he/she can try again. You would encourage him/her to keep trying, even if he/she made a mistake. Now transfer this encouragement to yourself. Change your critical voice to become a champion of your efforts and your little steps rather than a judge of your every misstep. You will probably find that the drive to succeed lasts longer and in 6 months from now, you will have noticed a little change.