This article first appeared on Happify
You didn’t get the promotion you wanted, despite having worked so hard for it. To make matters worse, the guy who did doesn’t even have your qualifications. Or maybe your presentation didn’t meet the expectations of your team, or meet the standards you’ve set for yourself. Or perhaps your boss, who values your strengths and expertise, is leaving, and you’ve never gotten along with the person who will be replacing her.
Boy, oh boy. Sometimes, the challenges just keep on coming.
When we hit a streak of setbacks, failures, or disappointments, it’s all too easy to become hard on ourselves. It’s our natural wiring we inherited from ancestors, who had to analyze and criticize their mistakes so they could live to see another day. Add to that the expectations and experiences, often from childhood, that pressure us into performing and succeeding at all costs, and it’s no wonder a molehill of letdowns can turn into a mountain of self-doubt.
Unless we’re intentional in how we respond, we let the threat response take over. We become reactive—we beat down on ourselves, compare ourselves to others, and lose perspective of our strengths and the situation. Or we go into victim mode, blaming people and circumstances and acting impulsively to feel better about ourselves. Neither response is helpful. As women’s leadership coach Tara Mohr writes in her book, Playing Big, we’re being more loyal to our fears than to our dreams.
As life’s challenges start to mount, what’s needed is a pep talk from someone reminding us of our strengths and reigniting our drive. But, too often, we end up fitfully searching for someone else to provide validation and approval.
Imagine if you had access to a booster who was always on call and available? Well, you do—it’s you.
To be your own cheerleader, you have to work against your natural instinct to run away from anything uncomfortable or painful. Here are three steps to help you do so. The first is often the hardest, and the one we overlook the most. Without it, though, we cannot have the perspective or the courage we need to take the right action when life knocks us down.
Step 1: Be Present
Bring a compassionate presence to mind that is both unconditional in its love and nonjudgmental in its attitude. Professor Paul Gilbert’s research on self-compassion has shown that this presence needs to have the following four qualities: Wisdom, Strength, Warmth, and Non-Judgment. Let this presence hold your hand if that makes you feel supported, or give you a hug if that’s how you like to be comforted. Let it assure you that you’re not alone; maybe it’ll say: “This is hard, I know. I’m right here with you.” What it will NOT do is tell you what to do. Or remind you of what you should’ve done.
Step 2: Build Perspective
Once your mental chatter calms down, you can turn to your thoughts with curiosity. Invite them in and try to understand what they’re trying to tell you. In her book Dare to Lead, Brené Brown shares a way of doing so that keeps us from becoming our thoughts. It’s filling in the blank: ‘The story I’m telling myself is…’ And listening to your story. Ask yourself whether this story is true. Is it always true? Is it 100 percent true? If you’re telling yourself, ‘I’m such a failure’, can you recall times when you were successful, or overcame a setback? What did that teach you about yourself? What’s a mantra that can help you right now?
Step 3: Balance Me and We
The perspective is not about denying mistakes or setbacks. On the contrary, it’s about seeing the full picture, so we can take the edge off the emotion and move from past shame and blame to responsible action. Here are some questions you can ask yourself: What do I want? How do I want to show up? What’s the difference I want to make through my work? If you’re not clear, spend some time on this. Your vision will be prosocial, meaning positive and intended to be of benefit to others, by nature because that’s how we’re wired. That’s how we experience a sense of meaning in our work and lives. Then take the next small step, and then another. And keep going, one step at a time.
As I write in my upcoming book: Life will always throw us darts. Things won’t always go right, and the world won’t always cheer us on. We will be confused and grope in the dark. We will fail and make bad decisions many times over. But if we can be with ourselves through it all in gentle acceptance, we won’t push and hustle to prove our worth. Or become violent, demanding, or manipulative to win the love only we can give ourselves.
Now go, shine your love and light in the world!