How to avoid the trap of self-criticism

Mark Travers
Written by Mark Travers
on January 20, 2023

New research can teach Xolopreneurs how to turn self-criticism into self-compassion.

Relationships are the foundation of life, and the one we have with ourselves is paramount. Unfortunately, many of us take it for granted. In this article, I’ll discuss three research-backed ways to calm your inner demons and approach your entrepreneurial journey with a heightened sense of self-compassion.

#1. Respect your learning curve

Many of us have unrealistic expectations about how long it takes to acquire new skills, adapt to new environments, or build profitable businesses. We believe that if we enroll in a program, or take a course, our brains will magically open up and absorb all the new information. Of course, the marketing of quick-fix and speed learning programs is much to blame for our unrealistic expectations. (Sorry, but there’s no such thing as 8-minute abs or 4-hour work weeks.) 

Cognitive psychologists will tell you that learning is a gradual process and one that cannot be rushed, even for a quick learning Xolopreneur. There has been a lot written about the 10,000-hour rule — the premise being that, on average, it takes about 10,000 hours to master any new skill. While there’s a lively debate over how accurate this rule actually is, the broad takeaway is still highly relevant: learning takes time.

Yet we routinely chastise ourselves for not getting things right on our first, second, or third tries. We become upset when a new business initiative doesn’t instantly pan out. We may blame ourselves for setbacks that are largely out of our control.  

When you start thinking this way (and every entrepreneur is guilty of this), you need to remember to be nice to yourself and respect the learning process. If you don’t, you run the risk of disengaging with the exercise altogether.

Furthermore, we have to be careful about setting comparison points. What I mean by this is that if we compare how much progress we’ve made from this week to last week, we’re probably going to be let down. Remember, learning is a gradual process. Building a business is a marathon, not a sprint. 

However, if we widen the comparison window, say from last summer to this summer, we might find a bit more appreciation for the gains we’ve made. Remember Bill Gates’ famous adage, “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” 

#2. Show yourself the same kindness you show others

Many of us find it easy to express kindness when interacting with others. However, when it comes to ourselves, we are overly critical. We may believe that self-compassion is self-indulgent and lazy, or that it will somehow undermine our motivation to succeed in our business pursuits.  

But this is a flawed and counterproductive belief. In fact, research published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, led by psychologist Christine Chwyl of Drexel University, found self-compassion to be something of a ‘motivational supercharger.’

“Our research echoes what studies have found time and time again — self-compassion not only feels better than harsh self-criticism, but it works better too, helping us rise to life’s inevitable challenges,” says Chwyl.

So, the next time you experience a setback, try reflecting on it from a place of self-compassion (e.g., “How am I a better person because of this?”) as opposed to a place of self-criticism (e.g., “Why do I fail at everything?”).

Other new research on self-compassion finds that the ability to treat ourselves with kindness not only helps us get through difficult times, it helps us savor the good times. 

People who tend to be self-compassionate may have a better ability to be mindful and present during good times and recognize that they deserve to experience positive experiences to their fullest,” says psychologist and lead author of the study, Benjamin Schellenberg. 

#3. Practice more 'behavioral flexibility' 

People have a tendency, over time, to become set in their ways. We streamline our routines. We refine our interests. We lock in our workflows. 

This isn’t, by itself, a problem. A good routine is a great way to auto-pilot through some of your day. And, let’s be honest, a bit of auto-pilot is good for the system, especially when we are biting off more than we can chew (as most Xolopreneurs probably are).

However, psychologists will tell you that routines aren’t a problem until they’re a problem. If you’re feeling depressed, anxious, or off-center, don’t be afraid to make changes to your routine. Don’t beat yourself up for having to jettison a goal you may have set. Be kind to yourself for easing up on the work front for a few weeks.  

In other words, don’t be afraid to incorporate some flexibility into your routine to restore your spirits. It sometimes can make all the difference.

Conclusion

Treating yourself with more compassion is easier said than done. To do it, try (1) not rushing the learning process, (2) showing yourself the same kindness you show others, and (3) loosening up the rigidity with which you approach your daily or weekly routine.

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Mark Travers, Ph.D., is an American Psychologist with degrees from Cornell University and the University of Colorado Boulder. Xolo helps him run his online therapy practice, Awake Therapy, from whatever part of the world he is currently living in.