Do you use self-criticism to motivate yourself?
So many men I talk to are convinced that the only way to get anything done is to constantly assess where they screwed up and beat themselves up so they do better next time.
This is an epidemic of self-hatred that makes fear and judgment run our lives.
But don’t beat yourself up about it!
When I ask clients to consider motivating from self-love, the universal reaction is fear and lack of self-trust.
“How would I get anything done?”
“How would I prevent myself from goofing off all day?”
However, motivation through self-criticism makes you frustrating to be around because it results in:
A need for constant reassurance
A lack of self-confidence and inability to own your greatness
An inability to receive compliments (knee-jerk rejection of praise)
Going through life this way will prevent you from living in your zone of genius and will generally make your days miserable - which is unattractive for anyone to be around.
So, how do you dismantle this automated criticism dispenser inside of you and face the fear of motivating from love?
First, notice if your motivation system is built on the unexamined belief that our fundamental nature is ‘sinful’ or ‘evil’ (you know, the whole ‘you must be saved’ theology that pervades our culture....).
Consider if you believe this is really true. For example, the tantric view that undergirds my work rejects this view, and notes instead that we are complex, multifaceted beings.
Furthermore, relating to ourselves in isolation from our environment, family, and systems of oppression and privilege is a mistake.
Second, notice when you are at your best, and what helps you get there, and when you are at your worst, and what is at play then (usually: inebriation, exhaustion, hunger, overwhelming emotions, unjust working conditions, etc). Focus on supporting yourself by surrounding yourself with conditions that help you be at your best.
Third, decide to notice when you have habitual self-critical thoughts, and choose to send yourself love and praise instead.
Yes, I know, the very idea of doing that can bring up alarm bells of: ‘it’s egotistical to praise myself’.
But it’s no secret in business that focussing on your strengths rather than on your perceived flaws is a more effective way to do good work. So breathe through those inner alarm bells and give yourself some praise and love - whisper: ‘you are doing the best you can’, ‘you really do care so much’.
Fourth, develop a practice of ‘celebration’ - and yes, this can also be terrifying. “But people will hate me if I talk about my accomplishments!” So, choose a trusted friend who is willing to go there with you, and practice weekly celebrations with each other - what went well, what you’re great at, what you’re proud of.
So, you can see that switching this paradigm may involve a lot of sitting with fear and uncomfortable feelings. If you don’t have a practice for doing that, it may be time to reach out and get trained - part of what my coaching is about.
And by the way, once you start being kinder to yourself, you may suddenly become aware of your heart’s true desires for your life - often something we bury under a pile of ‘shoulds’.
It can be terrifying to admit to ourselves what we really want. Sometimes it brings up a lot of grief, if we’ve been ignoring that inner yearning.
In tantric practice, there is a real invitation to follow our desire - desire as a pathway of expansion. In this practice, there’s not an end-point goal of getting the object of our desire, but rather, a journey of following the energy of desire. Each accomplishment contains the seeds of the next desire. Feeling this energy allows us to contract less around getting what we think we want and instead to simply allow it to motivate us.
Motivation from getting in touch with our true desire (not addictive desire for externally-imposed things like sweets, drugs, or porn) is expansive and easy. It inspires us.
It will, however, change your life. It will make you true to yourself. Sometimes I think this is the real reason we motivate out of criticism: we don’t want to take on the courageous life demanded by our true heart’s desire - which may not be easy or make sense to anyone else. It might ask for difficult choices - as my path did, when I left my academic career and chose to live full-time in a tantric community.
So then - far from being ‘weak’ or leading you to spend all day in bed watching Netflix and eating ice cream, motivation from love might just show you what your heart has been whispering below the level of your conscious awareness all these years. It just might lead you to face your fears, take on big challenges, make your mark on the world, and finally show up on the radar of your dream partner.