B.Y.O.B.F. (Be Your Own Best Friend)

I was recently working with a client who was very resentful.

Towards himself.

He would beat himself up over all his failures, and felt inadequate despite his successes.

When I asked him if he’d consider a different way of going about life, he asked me “what else is there?”

And this, unfortunately, is a very common phenomenon.

Our own inner voice, the expression of our “critical mind”, is just that, critical. We chastise ourselves on a regular basis.

Whether over decisions we’ve made, opportunities we’ve squandered, or failures we experience; we take it personally. Way too personally.

The goal of this inner dialogue, surprisingly, is to motivate us.

And sometimes it works.

Sometimes we feel so terrible that we force ourselves to progress. You don’t want me to make you feel that way again now, do you?” asked the voice. “so get a move on, you lazy, good for nothing [insert your own favorite self-deprecations]”

It doesn’t work

This form of motivation is similar to inspiring a runner by chasing him with a semi-trailer – he’ll get there, but he’ll hate you. Even if you achieved the goal you set out to do, it takes a big emotional toll, and it often leaves your resentful towards the process.

Other times, we feel so miserable as a result of our inner flagellation that we have no energy or motivation to do anything about the issue. Instead, we freeze and procrastinate, which in turn translates into further self-abuse.

This approach is so destructive, yet so common, because for many people this is the only form of motivation we know. And the reason it’s so common, is because it’s simpler. It does not take finesse to smash a wall down with a sledgehammer.

It does, however, take a lot of skill and emotional intelligence to get a child to do something out love, out of inner motivation. Brute force is easier and delivers short term results.

Chances are you experienced this attitude at some point in your life yourself. And now you administer it to yourself. The critical parent, that forceful teacher, they live on in your head.

Test yourself. When cognitive behavioral therapists help people explore their inner dialogue, they often ask “would you speak to your best friend that way?”

And the answer, very often, is no.

What to do

Now, you might be tempted to beat yourself up over the fact that you beat yourself up so much. I certainly was tempted to so. But before you do, take a moment to laugh at the absurdity of that sentence.

A far better approach is to understand yourself. Show compassion towards yourself. Both towards this behavioral pattern, if you have it, as well as to any future failures or setbacks you may experience in the future.

Practice speaking to yourself the way you would speak to your best friend. Compassionately explain your setbacks, instead of kicking yourself into the gutter (quite a visual scenario, no? I’m thinking of scenes from Fight Club).

Learn to be your best friend, because at the end of the day there will be times where you are the only one who is there for you. As Hillel the elder said, “If I am not for myself, who will be?” (Ethics of The Fathers 1:13)

Many people might be concerned at this point, that if they stop beating themselves up on a daily basis, they will find no other form of motivation and will quickly sink into motionless couch potatoes who watch 27 hours of TV a day. “You will probably also end up a homeless meth addict too,” says your critical voice.

This fear is a convenient failsafe for your negative loop. “I will verbally abuse you and tear you down” says your inner voice. “And if you dare to do anything that might harm my existence (like willing me away), you will become an abject failure.”

Genius in its simplicity, right?

The first step is to understand on a rational level how irrational this thought pattern is. When do you get more done? When are you more productive? When you’re feeling great about an accomplishment you’ve achieved, or when you’ve just endured a strong tongue lashing from your boss?

The former makes you feel like Thor. The latter makes you feel like you’re on the receiving end of his hammer.

Keep in mind that your rational understanding will only help you go so far. There is a certain amount of emotional processing required for you to learn a different thought pattern, a better way to view your setbacks, and a new way of motivating yourself.

Meditation is a great way to help you do this, to learn to accept yourself unconditionally, and to naturally strive to fulfill your potential – not because you are afraid of failing, but because it feels great to succeed.

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