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Breaking the cycle of self-criticism and toxic thinking

We can all be too hard on ourselves from time to time.

Maybe we didn’t get that promotion or lost that tennis match. While it’s ‘normal’ to have inner thoughts of ‘I should’ve done this or that’, the problem arises when there is repeated criticism. This chatter can manifest and like a seed, grow until it’s taken over your brain and started a cycle of toxic thinking.

women emotional sad

Learning from mistakes and finding new ways to improve in the future is very different to routinely putting yourself down for all type of mistakes, no matter how small or inconsequential.

Chronic self-criticism can cause anxiety, guilt as well as depression. Being tough on yourself doesn’t help you perform better, in fact, it does the opposite.

Here are some tips to help you break the cycle of self-criticism…

Write down your thoughts

woman writing

Most of the self-criticism we do happens in our heads, and it can happen so fast. There may be a thousands thoughts whirling around. However if you start writing down how you are feeling, not only can you not write as fast as you think, it may help you slow down your brain and give you perspective.

Write down five things you could’ve done better and five things you do well. By writing out your thoughts, you may get some clarity and a more balance viewpoint.

“We are so mean to ourselves sometimes. We would never speak to best friend or children the way we talk to ourselves in our head,” says naturopath Bek Nutter

“It’s a big thing to learn to calm any toxic thoughts we have with ourselves. Our minds never stop, and it may feel like the thoughts are circling constantly.”

2. Play devil’s advocate with yourself

woman thinking pensive
Stand up to yourself.

Just how you would stand up to a bully who was being mean to a loved one, learn to stand up to yourself. Provide counterarguments for every negative thought you’ve had.

For example, if you feel like you were to ‘lazy’ to go to the gym. Say to yourself, but why were you feeling so tired? Maybe the kids didn’t sleep or you were up finishing a project for work. Those things needed to come first. So on the contrary, you’re not ‘lazy’, you’re proactive in taking care of your kids and getting work done. The gym is always there, you can go tomorrow when you are less tired and have less pressure to get things done.

3. Let go

woman thinking meditating

We all feel shameful or self-conscious about things that didn’t go how we planned. Allow yourself to feel that way for a maximum of 30-50 minutes, to process those emotions then decide to move on from it.

Make a conscious effort to not dwell on things. Remember, not everything is in our control and we are actually taking back some control by not letting it ruin your day, week or month.

4. Exercise often

woman exercising

One of the best ways to stop your mind from racing is to do a big walk. This allows your body to catch up with your mind. If you’ve had a big day at work, a workout is a great transition to get rid of all the energy you have before allowing yourself to slow down before bed.

“Exercise also helps you focus on what you’re doing and not the other thoughts. Letting your mind have a break is important,” adds Bek,

“But sometimes exercising isn’t always possible, if you are in the middle of a big meeting, you can’t just go for a run.  This is when it is important to lean to quieten your mind.”

5. Anticipate your triggers

close up woman's eye with tears

Self-criticism often occurs when we are taken off guard but if you are more accepting for an outcome that could go either way, that element of surprise is gone. In fact, by being open to different outcomes, we are more accepting of whatever the aftermath may be.

For example, tell yourself it’s okay if you don’t get that promotion, you can ask your manager afterwards what you can do to work towards the next one.

Or if you were hoping to lose weight by a certain date and you don’t, it doesn’t matter as long as you are moving in the right direction. You can set smaller goals or even new goals. Taking pressure off yourself will also stop your from setting yourself up to fail.

6. Don’t use self-criticism to motivate yourself

Being critical of yourself doesn’t motivate you. Too much energy and attention is spent on criticism so it’s hard to be able to spur yourself on afterwards.

woman waking up

Maybe a parent, teacher or even a boss talked down to you to get you to perform, and now you’re carrying on that trait hoping it will encourage you. But it won’t long term. It’s actually very damaging to your self-esteem and overall wellbeing. Distance yourself from anyone who is feeding your toxic thoughts.

Reward yourself instead. If you criticise yourself into losing weight, you will feel down and turn to comfort food to feel better. Instead, if you say, I’m going to lead a healthier lifestyle and reward myself with a non-food treat once I can run 5km or walk up a hill without collapsing at the end of it, this is more likely to motivate you than the toxic chatter.

7. Be your own cheer team

happy women arms raised

No one is going to know you better or love you better than yourself (well, maybe your mum). We’re not saying to shamelessly brag, but you need to tell yourself that you are amazing.

Remind yourself of how far you’ve come and learn to love yourself. The key to quietening the negative thoughts is to find love and appreciation for yourself. Nourishing yourself with healthy food, respecting your body, calming mind and telling yourself you are worthy, because you are.

It’s not easy to do at first, and maybe you need to speak to a therapist, doctor, friend or partner to help you at first. But it’s important you start believing in yourself as well.

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