The need for praise starts at a young age. I’ve watched mothers feed babies and clap while exclaiming, “Yay!” when the baby accepts the mouthful happily. This is usually followed by a huge smile from the baby as she bounces and claps along. As the child ages, it takes more effort to receive the same amount of admiration. Tidying up a bedroom or drawing a pretty picture may elicit a coveted “good girl” remark from a parent.
By adolescence, the opportunities to really shine seem reduced to a perfect report card or acceptance to a good college. Somewhere in those early days, that inner mean girl begins to nag at you, telling you that you aren’t pretty enough, smart enough, thin enough, or just plain “enough” for anything your heart desires. She bullies the best of us, but if we are lucky we can figure out how to shut her up.
Here’s how it started for me …
That particular week seemed more difficult than others. I remember sitting in a team meeting at work and for no reason, tears started welling up in my eyes. I discreetly left the room so that no one would notice and hid in a corner while I cried.
What was wrong with me?
For starters, I was exhausted. I was leading a big project at work, and I felt the need to be “on” 24/7. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d taken a day off. From time to time, I’d daydream about this destination spa that I’d discovered online nearly two years prior. I could practically feel the tranquility through the photos on the website. But there was that voice telling me that I didn’t deserve the time off, shouldn’t spend the money, and that successful people didn’t need a break. My fear of completely losing it must have outweighed the negative self-talk, because I made the decision to take the week off and head for the spa.
Desperate for a little Zen, I decided in advance that I was going to become a yoga devotee during my week away. I showed up for early morning yoga on the first day and found a spot near the front of the room. Class started.
Then something happened.
Instead of the instant bliss-fix that I had counted on, all I could feel was the pain and tightness in my back, hamstrings, and hunched shoulders. I felt angry, defeated, and sad as I let my inner mean girl beat me down. “You should be able to straighten your legs and do a perfect forward bend! You should be able to relax and open your heart like the instructor is telling you,” she shouted. I actually felt anger towards the instructor, as if she was the one demanding perfection from me. I couldn’t wait to get out of there!
Shortly after that class I met Sarah, my assigned personal trainer for the week. She was nice, but I could tell she was there to prove a point. She challenged me with heavier weights and encouraged me during the interval training she had designed for my session.
That 1:1 experience was exactly what I needed. Along with a little positive reinforcement, I was able to let go and be vulnerable. I started running on my own after that meeting with Sarah, and it was during those runs that I was able to start to feel freedom from the judgement of my inner mean girl.
One of my favorite quotes is from Norman Vincent Peale and says “You change your thoughts and you change your world.” Old habits die hard, and that nagging voice doesn’t go away overnight. Here are a few things that worked for me.
1) Practice gratitude. Start by recognizing all of the good things in your life, no matter how small. When you approach your day looking for the good, you are less likely to focus on the negative. Some people write daily in gratitude journals so they can keep track of their blessings and go back and read previous entries on tough days.
2) Treat yourself as you would treat your best friend. Would you tell your best friend that she isn’t good enough for something or that she is a lazy slob? Of course not! The next time negative self-talk starts, try responding with the same care and kindness that you’d readily give to your best girl friend.
3) Accept your imperfections. To err is human. In fact, the most accomplished people in the world succeeded only after first failing many times. Instead of bashing yourself for messing up, look at the experience as an opportunity to learn, to grow, and to do better next time.