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The One Phrase That Helps Me Stop Being So Hard on Myself

It's all too easy to berate yourself. It's a lot harder to be nice. But this trick can help.

I woke up this Monday morning at 8:30am, feeling completely drained, bloated, and so tired I was almost in a daze.

Why? Well, I had a fun weekend. I went tubing on a river in Utah with new friends. I ate some sushi, pizza, and lots of cheese and crackers. I also ran 3 miles. I walked around an arts festival on Sunday. I had wine and I drank two beers at a friend’s backyard barbecue where we tossed a frisbee with dogs until the sun went down behind the mountains.

It was a idyllic, beautiful, pretty much perfect summer weekend.

But when I went to the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror this morning, the first thought that went through my mind wasn’t:

Wow, I’m so grateful for such a fun weekend.

Nope. My first thought was:

You’re such an idiot, Locke! You’re puffy and exhausted. Why did you do this to yourself? Why did you drink that beer last night? You shouldn’t have had all that cheese.

Wrong reaction, I know. I was mad at myself for… what? Enjoying my weekend? I started the day off on the completely wrong foot.

And I should know better. I’m a health and wellness writer, so I’ve read all the research and advice about positive self-talk, self-love, self-care—all those self-centered(ish) actions that really aren’t self-centered after all.

The thing is, I’m pretty self-confident. I take good care of myself. I do like myself. But I’m also pretty self-critical.

I’d always pushed myself to go the extra step—in school, in my career, just in my life. And I’d be hard on myself if I didn’t do it perfectly. Good enough has never really been good enough for me. I didn’t just get straight As in high school; I got straight As in all AP classes. I didn’t just graduate with a major in English; I graduated with a distinguished major with honors. In my career, it’s never been enough for me to stay in the same job for years—I had to move onward and upward as quickly as possible.

Ironically, my personality type is not 100% type-A. I’m pretty easy-going, and I seem laid-back to people I meet. But thanks to my ever-present anxiety, I’m typically always worried about something, and way harder on myself than I should be—or anyone else is.

Even if I don’t think I did anything wrong, I’ll often go over situations in my head—with friends, on a date, at work—and worry endlessly that I messed something up, somehow, and it’ll catch up with me eventually.

It’s hard for me to just be okay with things as they are. That need to go to the extra step—to be perfect, not just okay—has always been there for me.

But while it’s helped me in some ways, I know enough to know this isn’t a great philosophy for the long run. Beating myself up (let alone beating myself for imaginary “mistakes”!) isn’t going make anything better. It’s just going to continue stressing me out, making me anxious, stoking that ever-present flame of worry in my mind.

Back to this morning. I splashed some water on my face, brushed my teeth, and put in my contacts.

Then I took a deep breath and looked at myself again.

They say the first step to changing is to be aware, and hey, at least I was aware of the things I was saying to myself. I knew I had to change my internal dialogue.

So instead of berating myself for doing something “wrong,” I decided to forgive myself, to tell myself that it was okay. It’s a trick I’ve used in the past (not often enough), and it’s actually pretty incredible how well it works.

Alright, let’s try this again, I thought, as I stared myself in the mirror.

It’s okay, Locke.

You’re going to be tired today, but you had a fun weekend, and you did nothing wrong

Well, except drink beer, which never sits well with you!

(Another lesson learned: You can’t buy wine on Sundays in Utah!)

Over the course of the morning, I managed to push out those negative thoughts clouding my mind. Even though I’m still dragging today, later in the afternoon, I got it all done. I didn’t mess anything up irrevocably. I met my deadline. I sent the emails I needed to send. I took my conference calls. I even wrote this piece.

So I’m telling myself that it’s okay. Maybe I’m not doing it all perfectly today, but that’s okay, too. 

And some days—especially Mondays after a busy weekend—that’s all we need to do.

Locke Hughes is a freelance writer, editor, and health coach currently based in Park City, Utah. Follow her on Instagram @lockeitdown and learn more about her here

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