Unusual strategies you can use to stop criticizing yourself in 2021

What a relief! 2021 is officially here. We made it. We get a clean slate, a chance to shake ourselves off the dust and resurrect our half-dead dreams.
Because 2020 really did a big one on us. And although our problems are far from over, we can’t be any more grateful to rid ourselves of the stench of a crappy 2020.

And what a better way to do this than to start on a clean slate, right? If you’re anything like me, I’m guessing that by now, you’ve probably bought yourself a pretty pink (or yellow?) notebook and jotted down your resolutions.

But you’ve not just bought any notebook, you’ve selected one with powerful inscriptions like: You’ve got this! A fresh start begins today. A new year, new me. Or whatever sexy mantra you feel is motivating enough to make you place your foot back on the pedal of your life.

Perhaps your resolutions sound like this:

  • To bask in the white beaches of Koh Samui. (That’s mine. Post-Covid vaccine, of course)
  • To save $3000 by December.
  • To do whatever I can to get a date with that hot chick down the road. (Not mine)
  • To break my smoking addiction permanently by April.
  • To shed10 kilos and get a slimmer waistline by June.

All this is good. But, let’s dig into some harsh truths now, shall we?

If you’re honest, you’ve been here before. As I have. In fact, more times than I care to admit. But allow me to paint the picture.

In January, you’re all pumped up so you dive in and attack your goals with the tenacity of a bull. But only for three to four months. By the time April rolls around, your motivation isn’t quite the same. It’s deflated a tad bit. But you don’t stop. At least not yet.

As days fall off the calendar and November comes around, you’ve long pulled out of the game. Your hopes and goals now desiccate in the hot sun of abandonment. Or perhaps you don’t plunge into your goals straight away. You’re meticulous and strategic. You like all your ducks in one row before you take action. The perfectionist in you drafts a clear and concise plan.

There’s only one problem, though; you plan so much that you never pull the trigger. And as the days fall off the calendar and the year comes to a close, you’re back where you started. And the cycle continues.

The big question is, why does this happen? How can the same highly motivated person walk away from the very thing they want so badly? One word: Inner critic. That’s the monster that strangles and sucks the life out of your goals and dreams.

The good news? You’re not the only one fighting this battle. All of us hear this incessantly annoying voice every day. Some call it imposter syndrome. I hear it daily. As soon as I open my computer to write:

“Who are you to share your thoughts with the world?” Why would anybody read your boring and flavorless ramblings?” “What can you say that hasn’t been said a million times already?”

In the beginning, I lost the fight to my inner critic many times. But with time, I learned it’s never going anywhere. Now? I just write. Even though I can still hear him jumping from one ear to the other like a monkey.

“We feel resistance more strongly when we’re about to dare greatly.” Steven Pressfield

One hot afternoon, the phenomenal Oprah Winfrey and Steven Pressfield sat down under a giant pepper tree to discuss his best-selling book, The War of Art. The main topic was the roadblocks that keep you and I from fulfilling our creative potential.

Any person can attest to running into this huge wall that magically shows up each time we’re working towards our goals. This “wall” is called resistance. Mr. Pressfield defined the concept of Resistance as:
“the negative force that arises whenever we try to move from a lower level to a higher level.”

I like to think of Resistance and inner critic as relatives. If you want to achieve your set goals, you must find a way of beating those two suckers. Let’s explore some ways you can do this.

Stop caring too much.

“The best is the enemy of the good” — Voltaire

I know this sounds ironic. So we’ll use the example of a cat. The more you ignore her, the closer she draws towards you. The more you focus on her, the further she pulls away. This analogy is accurate when it comes to pursuing goals.

If you are hell-bent on getting in shape no matter what, you probably won’t, or it might take you a very long time. Because when you want something so badly, you set impossible standards. You become a perfectionist. So on the day you miss one workout, your motivation dissipates a little.

Taking yourself too seriously forces you to go hard on yourself, which isn’t sustainable in the long term. In fact, studies show that becoming a perfectionist can have negative effects on your health, like stress, anxiety, and depression.

Perfectionists are often too obsessed with achievements and that can set them up for disappointment. Results take time. A business takes years to build. It takes several attempts to overcome an addiction. And relationships don’t heal overnight.

Stop thinking you need to make significant progress within a specific time frame. Instead, focus on taking baby steps. A baby step towards financial freedom can mean taking an hour to send pitches to potential clients. It can mean taking a 10-minute walk to get healthy.

It can mean calling your estranged child three minutes a day to heal a broken relationship. To achieve what you want, you need to be impatient enough to take a tiny weenie bit of action daily but patient enough not to expect results straight away.

Remind yourself that today doesn’t matter as much as you think.

“Ask yourself if whatever you’re concerned about today will matter in the next three days,” I remember reading these words as an Instagram caption from one of my favorite writers- Elizabeth Gilbert. Just hearing those words took the pressure of the present moment off my back.

By adopting this attitude, I’m no longer a slave to my inner critic. Though I battle daily with the notion that my writing isn’t good enough, as soon as I hit the publish button, it no longer bothers me. The battle ends. I confidently slam the door on that annoying and ugly voice because no matter how badly I feel, I know it won’t matter in the coming days.

It’ll be tossed in the sea of forgetfulness. All this to say that as long as you’re upgrading your life, challenges and setbacks will pop up like mushrooms. Instead of letting them paralyze you into inaction, remind yourself that in three days, weeks or months, they won’t matter.

Learn to see the bigger picture. Don’t get too caught up trying to manipulate every minute that you lose sight of the vast unfolding future.
The truth? One day you’ll shrivel and die. Whatever mountain is stopping you now will be but a molehill then.

Sit back and play a horror movie of your life.

“The pain is worse, not doing it, than doing it.”Steven Pressfield
One day, grab some imaginary popcorn and play a horror movie of your life. Imagine the worst outcome for your life; a half-baked life with nothing to show. Imagine your talents, capabilities, and potential all going down the drain. Let yourself feel bad.

Picture being strapped to a hospital bed, sick as a dog because you couldn’t be bothered to eat veggies. Picture being broke, drowning in debt because you couldn’t read a book about money. Picture dying alone and loveless because you couldn’t pick up the phone and call the one person you truly want.

See if it doesn’t make you get off your backside and take action. All this to say that fear is a force of good when appropriately harnessed. At some point, it’ll drown out the whispers of insecurities and self-doubt.

Final thoughts

The only way to silence your inner critic is to keep pushing. Remember that life is best lived as a marathon, not a sprint. Getting what you want takes time. So loosen your grip and don’t set impossible standards for yourself.

Refuse to take yourself too seriously and focus on the bigger picture. Because whatever you’re too concerned about today won’t matter in the near future.

This article first appeared in Medium.