You know what it feels like when a boss or coworker (or maybe even a spouse or friend) is pressuring you for whatever reason? Maybe it’s a huge project for a bigtime client, and your boss keeps reminding you how important it is, and you really have to deliver, and it will be really bad for the company if things don’t go well. And then maybe you get some feedback that’s less than stellar, and you are reminded—again—how high the stakes are.
You know this feeling: Your internal critic goes to town and you start beating yourself up. Maybe your heart beats faster or you start to sweat. Your breathing gets shallow, and your shoulders tighten up. Then you’re clenching your jaw and hunching over your desk instead of sitting tall like you do when you feel confident. By the end of the day you have a headache and your neck is sore.
It’s the worst.
It can get so bad that you’re sick to your stomach.
Are you like me and associate this stress-induced response as happening only when triggered by someone else?
I thought you might be, and I learned something about myself recently that I’ve been exploring: I make myself feel like this all on my own. A lot.
Yep. When I determine a goal (lose weight) or start a big project (write a book), I do all of the things I just described in the example with the boss pressuring you—except, I’M the one doing the pressuring.
I keep telling myself how important it is that I stay on track, keep my eye on the prize, I really have to deliver, what a slacker I am if I slow down or miss something, and it will be really bad (for me) if things don’t go well. Then I give myself less-than-stellar feedback—okay, let’s be honest, the stuff I say to myself is downright awful, like how I can never do anything right, will never be able to do what I set out to accomplish, and even if I do it won’t be good enough.
Then I read something about self-criticism causing stress in the body, and stress in turn causes elevated levels of cortisol, which can wreak all kinds of havoc (mess up sleep, cause weight gain, disrupt menstruation for women, to name just a few).
This was a literal lightbulb moment.
OF COURSE pressure and criticism is stressful when it’s coming from other people. So why have I never correlated the pressure and criticism I direct toward myself as self-inflicted stress?
Then I thought about my clients. I’ve been working with amazing writers this year on their book manuscripts. Imagine committing to completing your book manuscript in a year, and yet these writers are doing it. AND they are kicking ass. Sure, some of them may not be as far along as they had hoped, but when we get on our check-in calls what am I saying to them?
I say: Look at all you’ve accomplished so far this year. Make a list of what you HAVE done this year, IN SPITE of everything we’ve been dealing with. Reflect on where you were when we started working together, and have you made progress—YES! Are you farther along now than you would be otherwise—YES! You are doing great, you have SO MUCH to be proud of.
And it hit me: The things I say to myself I would NEVER say to one of these writers. So why the fuck do I speak to myself that way?
It’s high time that I treat myself with the same kindness and love and grace that I treat my clients. And if this is a reminder I needed, then I’m guessing you probably needed it to. So here it is: be nice to yourself. You know that writing buddy who you trade work with sometimes? What would you say to them? Write it down as if you were sending them an email. And then read it to yourself OUT LOUD. Bet it’s a lot of juicy stuff you need to hear right now.